CHAMPAIGN — The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to partner with the First Followers re-entry program in a show of support for efforts to help the formerly incarcerated access community resources.
It’s something that Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons and others have been working to build for years. Now that the contract between his department and First Followers will be signed, he said, “it’s going to really make a difference in the lives of the formerly incarcerated.”
The group's efforts over the past three-and-a-half years to keep people from falling through the cracks has earned them the James R. Burgess Jr./Susan Freiburg Humanitarian Award, which they'll be presented with at today's Champaign County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Urbana.
First Followers has already partnered with other government agencies in town, including the Housing Authority of Champaign County — which allows them to operate First Steps, a transitional house for community members returning from prison.
The partnership with the city will mean more resources — including a new project coordinator — will be available to enhance implementation of the program’s two-tiered, 20-week program.
The first 10-week “personal development” phase is mainly classroom-based curriculum and interpersonal skill enhancement activities.
The second phase of that program focuses on workforce skills training, especially getting the formerly incarcerated ready for jobs in demolition, drywall installation, painting, flooring, gardening and horticulture.
Council member Will Kyles said he was pleased with the partnership, especially that the funding is coming from the state through the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
“This is a big deal,” Kyles said. “A lot of times, people wonder how they can build partnerships with the city. Building them seems slow, but that’s the nature of relationship building. The first time we talked about this was three years ago. So it’s a big deal to be able to do this and see the effectiveness of what we’re doing.”