Offering ex-inmates bridge to a new life in Okanagan

Faith-based society has Vernon and Kelowna donor support

Faith and hope have been hallmarks of the Bridges To A New Life Society for the past 20 years to help inmates straighten out their lives upon their release from jail.

The faith comes from the society’s Christian ministry groundings, and the hope comes in offering guidance and support to people on probation or parole to lead productive lives and learn from rather than repeat their mistakes.

The society has sustained itself without any government funding, this past year relying on private donations of 306 financial supporters and the aid of 74 volunteers to assist with some 765 clients, operating with a paid staff of three, headed by ordained church minister Craig Churchill.

To continue the society’s existing service efforts, two annual fundraiser banquets are planned for Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Nov. 1, in Vernon at the Trinity United Church, 3300 Alexis Park Dr., and Saturday, Nov. 3, 5:30 p.m., in Kelowna at the Evangel Church, 3261 Gordon Dr.

Churchill said the banquet also offer the dual purpose this year of paying tribute to Rob Baskin, who founded the society 20 years ago and is now retiring from active service to the organization, and his wife Brenda, a long-time volunteer.

“Rob provided the vision for the society and it has been a huge accomplishment what he has done,” said Churchill, who worked with the society six years ago before completing his training to be an ordained pastor with church stints in Africa, Pakistan and India.

“He was the one who convinced me to come back at take over from him.”

The society works directly with inmates in the Kamloops and Vernon provincial correctional institutions and twice a year reaches out to those in federal institutions in the Lower Mainland who plan to relocate in the Okanagan after being released.

“Many of those in jail have been disowned by their family and have no one to communicate with them, give them some direction, help them get re-established in society to reduce their chances of re-offending,” he said.

“And it’s often the case when people get released they have nothing and no place to live, so we try to help them make that adjustment, from trying to find work and a place to live to providing them basic toiletries and clothing.”

To help with that transition, the society facility on Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna, across from Capri Centre, also rents out five upstairs rooms to those on parole or probation.

“We don’t pull any punches. We tell people staying with us you are not going to change and do well for yourself unless you change some of your habits that put you in jail in the first place,” he said.

“And we stick to adhering to Christian principles that require you to attend church services every Sunday and participate in the 12-step Christian program for recovery meetings every Wednesday. That and either seeking or finding work are mandatory for us along with meeting all your probation or parole stipulations. “

Churchill acknowledges the Christian faith principles of their program tend to shut the door on secular-favoured government funding support.

“We run a very financially frugal operation but there always seems to be enough donation support to keep us going,” he noted.

He said the task of helping rehabilitate convicted criminals is a towering task where more resources are needed, one for the society that is measured more in single victories than larger scale success.

“We are all about small victories. I would love to say we have a 50 per cent success rate of those who reach out to Bridges but I can’t say that. But I can say we have had many people who have succeeded in making that transition to productive citizens and we keep reaching out to those who want to change their lives.

“It is an exciting ministry to be a part of as we are blessed to work with and help these guys, but some days there are tears and other days there is rejoicing.”



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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