Chaplain Debbie & Jon Ponder, Founder & CEO of HFP
Lavish: Please tell our readers why you are such a passionate advocate of HOPE for Prisoners (HFP) & your role with their organization.
Chaplain Debbie: I became involved in HFP as a volunteer chaplain through Chaplaincy Nevada about 7 years ago. I visited HFP for the first time as a community leader to a group called "Chaplain's Corner" held during "Tuesday Huddles" as well as completing their mentor program. My primary role is two-fold ... to listen & to offer prayer.
Listening to people who have been locked up, some for many years & how they are trying to get back into society is just amazing. For example, one man spoke about sitting on his bed & scared to death to pick out his own clothes. These men & women are told what to do, what to wear & have no choices for a good portion of their lives. Things we take for granted such as cell phones were not available to them for years so it can become overwhelming & a great source of fear.
Through prayer, I have seen & experienced miracles happen ... God has allowed me to see potential in people in ways others may not be able to.
HOPE for Prisoners is a family... they (ex-offenders) are people just like us who need a second chance. They just have to find their treasure inside of them & everyone has something inside of them,...EVERYONE. There are a lot of good people at HOPE for Prisoners, a lot of love & we are family!
Lavish: Tell us about some of the programs HOPE offers & what happens there ...
Chaplain Debbie: Jon Ponder, Founder & CEO of HFP & the mentors work with the person transitioning back into society. These clients (ex-offenders) are released with no ID, most of the time without family, nowhere to go & often no support. They are required to complete a pre-vocational training workshop & upon graduation, participate in an 18 month follow-up program where they have access to parenting classes, financial classes, Bible studies, mentoring, Leadership Academy, etc...
"Tuesday Huddles," offer the clients a place & time to share how their week went,... they share their hardships, challenges & celebrations... and they receive encouragement from mentors, volunteers, chaplains & each other.
A team of Metro Police Officers volunteer their time weekly to mentor & speak to the clients as well. Often times it is too scary & intimidating for them to be in the presence of Metro Officers, but seeing these Officers who give of their time is amazing & the clients actually end up relating to them.
Hope for Prisoners is like a community where they can lift each other up! They have great community partnerships, such as the Metro Police Department & Station Casinos. Recently, even the Mayor of Las Vegas stopped by to congratulate clients on graduation day!
Lavish: How is HOPE for Prisoners different from other re-entry programs?
Chaplain Debbie: Jon Ponder's goal for participants is to present oneself like they have never spent a day in prison! It's all about how YOU present yourself, how you dress, how you speak, how you act, etc...
Due to the programs at HOPE for Prisoners, Jon Ponder, the incredible staff, volunteers, mentors & community partners, there is less than a 6% chance that participants re-offend .... That's a huge success rate!!
Lavish: What would you say to families or "victims" of crimes who may have a different view of giving ex-offenders a second chance?
Chaplain Debbie: I have a son, who just like HOPE's clients, chose to use his gifts the wrong way. He got caught up in gangs in his youth & made some really bad choices... he eventually was sent to Juvenile Hall. He turned his life around because I didn't give up on him... just like HOPE, you have to motivate them to be SOMEONE & to be something. Everyone has a treasure inside of them,... they just have to find theirs & when they do, it's amazing what they can accomplish & what they're capable of... you would never know they had spent time in jail.
....but, people who have been incarcerated have to give up their past life completely! They need to stay connected to good organizations like HOPE, to mentors, to a community who will encourage & support them ... and it truly helps to have a faith component.
Lavish: Closing thoughts for our readers?
Chaplain Debbie: I would ask people to go & visit HOPE, listen to the stories of how lives are being transformed. Go to a graduation ceremony held at the Metro Police station & attended by some of Nevada's local politicians, judges, police & parole officers, etc... get involved by becoming a mentor, because when you help others, it does help you. Also, financial support is needed to keep the programs going ... to help participants be successful productive citizens in our community. HOPE for Prisoners helps change lives, change families which changes our communities. Maybe you've been in trouble in the past & someone helped you ... give back & help ...
but above all, ..... BELIEVE that people CAN change!
Chaplain Debbie Damron ...
Debbie has lived in Las Vegas for 47 years. She is married, a mother of two grown children and a grandmother of one. She is an ordained chaplain with Chaplaincy Nevada and an active Chaplains Advisory Board Member. Debbie has been trained and certified in various fields and has received numerous honors and recognition for her outstanding dedication and service within our community. She says that God brought her to HOPE for Prisoners due to one of her own children making wrong choices,... she believes that there is much more out there for those that have made mistakes .... and that "everyone deserves a second chance!"
* learn more about Debbie & Chaplaincy Nevada ... "Faith Is" ~ a book of inspiring stories from Las Vegas Chaplains compiled by Chaplain Tamia Dow
~ Lavish Three ~