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Friday, Nov. 15, 2013

Heroes of the Week: Project RETURN Volunteers

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Project RETURN (Returning Ex-offenders To Urban Realities and Neighborhoods) has helped thousands of minimum-security prison ex-offenders successfully integrate back into communities. The 33-year-old nonprofit offers one-on-one counseling, jobs programs, fatherhood groups, support groups and more. Through partnering with local community organizations, Project RETURN is able to break down re-entry barriers and foster more welcoming community attitudes to aid in successful re-integrations. Every year, 2,500-3,000 clients utilize Project RETURN’s programs, with an estimated 1,000 of them brand-new clients. All the programs are offered free of change and once a person is signed up, the programs are available to them for life—no matter how many times he or she has been incarcerated.

Executive Director Wendel Hruska said Project RETURN’s clients appreciate that they offer a safe environment where they feel they are getting the services they need while being respected and having a voice. But the organization has a larger mission.

“Our goal is to successfully help individuals and, ultimately, start shutting down prisons in Wisconsin,” Hruska says. “The only way to do this is by changing perceptions, and to do that, we need to offer first-hand experience with ex-offenders. We give interns, volunteers and community members these first-hand experiences, which help challenge and take down those stereotypes by informing people what an ex-offender is. And we say to so many of our clients that you are not only helping your life, but are being an example for everyone else who comes out of prison after you.” 

The volunteer board of directors has five openings, and many other opportunities are available year-round. Additionally, donations of coats and warm clothing, furniture and other items can be dropped off at the organization’s office (2821 N. Fourth St., Suite 202). For more information, visit projectreturnmilwaukee.org or contact Hruska at 414-374-8029 or wendel@projectreturnmilwaukee.org.

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