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THE ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR WOMEN’S PRISON PROGRAM

Rotary International has always been an organization dedicated to service and to making a positive impact in communities worldwide. In the scenic town of Gig Harbor, a group of professional men and women Rotarians and Friends of Rotary are taking this commitment to a whole new level through the Rotary Women’s Prison Program. This program supports and empowers incarcerated women at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in their journey toward successful reentry into society. Through various initiatives, the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor is making a tangible difference in the lives of these women and their families. The Women’s Prison Program encompasses five areas of activity, each addressing key needs faced by WCCW women during and especially after incarceration.

The first is the Reentry Employment Training (RET) program, which focuses on equipping women with the necessary skills and resources to secure employment and reintegrate into society and the workforce. With early resource collaboration from the WCCW, Employment Security, Goodwill Industries, and Rebuilding Families, the RET course was developed and has been team taught since January 2013, with Rotarians/Friends of Rotary working alongside specially selected WCCW women inmates from The Women’s Village who are committed to give back their time and talents to help other inmates. All RET courses are team taught by Rotarians/Friends of Rotary & Village inmates.

The typical student profile of those participating in the RET program reveals important insights into the challenges faced by women who serve time. The majority are between the ages of 20 to 40 with some 60-70% having been incarcerated before, some multiple times. Nearly half have young children waiting for them upon release. Roughly 75% leave the WCCW with a GED/Diploma, while some 25% have pursued higher education-some of this inside the WCCW. A history of trauma including physical/sexual/mental abuse characterizes some 80-90%, as does involvement with drugs in one form or another. Some 70% are believed to present at least one diagnosable mental illness. The correlation between limited socio-economic resources, limited education level and incarceration is notable. Incarceration of women is clearly multigenerational with children of incarcerated women 7 times more likely to also serve time. In the USA, the fastest growing population of those incarcerated are women. 

Since its inception in January 2013, the Rotary Reentry Employment Training Program has achieved several milestones. Over 840 women have now graduated from the RET course, thanks to the dedication of both Rotarians and Friends of Rotary volunteers who have donated well over 5,000 hours of their time. The RET course is taught 5 times/year and lasts some 8 weeks. A brief  2-minute video of the RET course may be seen at: http://vimeo.com/seatofthepantsproduction/review/74315818/e5bd0cc265

A second program, the women’s prison scholarship fund, was launched in 2014 and to date has awarded over $40,000 to support college and trade school education of women released from the WCCW who have attended the University of Washington, Evergreen State College, Eastern Washington University, numerous community colleges and a variety of trade/professional schools. The Women’s Prison Scholarship Fund has grown to some $85,000, with the goal to reach $200,000 by 2023. Scholarships are intended to serve as an incentive to pursue continued education, not to pay the full costs of this education. A computer & printer are awarded with each scholarship. It has been shown that continuing education is without doubt one of the strongest deterrents in countering reincarceration.

A third program, Cars4Change is another initiative launched in 2019 as part of the Rotary Women’s Prison Program. In partnership with local auto repair shop owners, Rotarians have come together to provide transportation assistance to women upon their release. This includes securing suitable vehicles, helping with driver’s license acquisition, insurance coverage, and paying off prior traffic fines. Cars4Change works closely with the Reentry Training Program to address the crucial issue of transportation for successful reentry, especially when balancing work, child care & education.

Recognizing the ongoing need for support beyond prison walls after release, the Rotary Club of Gig Harbor launched a fourth program–the Rotary Reentry Coach-Mentor Program. Still in its infancy, this program aims to connect released WCCW women with Rotarian/Friend of Rotary mentors who provide online and telephone support following release.

The 5th area of activity involves the creation of a resource rich website dedicated to women released from the WCCW. It is accessed at www.rotarywomensprison.com In addition, a Facebook Page  dedicated to released WCCW women has also recently been launched.

By engaging the business community and fostering partnerships with other organizations, the Rotary Women’s Prison Program contributes to a comprehensive reentry support system. The success of the program over the past 10 years is a testament to the collaboration and dedication of numerous partners. The program has been fortunate to work with organizations like The IF Project, the Freedom Education Project of Puget Sound, Tacoma Community College, and many other community colleges and universities throughout Washington State. Local Rotary clubs, such as Gig Harbor Midday Rotary, Gig Harbor North Rotary, Tacoma North Rotary, and Tacoma Eight Rotary, have also played important roles in the program’s achievements.

The Gig Harbor Rotary Foundation, Rebuilding Families, Inc., Pierce County Community Partnership for Transitional Services, Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Washington State HR Managers Association, and the Family Council of WCCW are among the several partners supporting the Rotary Women’s Prison Program.

The impact of Gig Harbor Rotary’s work goes beyond the local community. The women’s prison model created is replicable and adaptable for use in other communities with correctional facilities. To facilitate this, the website noted earlier, www.rotarywomensprison.com, has been established as a repository of free manuals, documents, and reentry materials for use by released WCCW women and other organizations. This online platform allows interested individuals and groups to access valuable resources and learn from the success of the Gig Harbor Rotary Women’s Prison Program.

The Rotary Women’s Prison Program is an excellent example of Rotary International’s commitment to service. By addressing the unique challenges faced by incarcerated women and providing them with the support and tools needed for successful reentry, the program is helping to transform lives and build stronger communities. The dedication of Rotarians, Friends of Rotary and partnering organizations has made a significant impact. Their combined efforts serve as an inspiration for others to replicate this vital work in their own communities.

Gig Harbor Rotary is committed to providing the technical assistance and resources needed to any Rotary Club with a desire to launch a similar program in their local correctional facility. The club is best reached at this Email address: rotarywomensprison@gmail.com 

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