Laura Harrell-Mitchell, center, proudly shows off her t-shirt as fellow residents Ericka Miller and Kayla Landes agree with the slogan “we believe that your past does not define your future.”
Photo by Janet Barnett/Gazette Packet
It looks like any other neighborhood house in Del Ray, with a well-kept yard and a cozy living room with a comfortable couch and magazines. But Guest House is a residential program for recently-incarcerated non-violent women offenders to help them successfully reenter the community. It is the only residential house of its kind serving women in Northern Virginia.
This week they are successfully celebrating 45 years since opening the first Guest House at One East Luray Ave. and the opening of a second Guest House at 120 South Payne Street.
Kari Galloway, Executive Director, says when she came 14 years ago there were nine beds, and she was the only full-time staff. The State Department of Corrections increased the allocation to 17 beds five years ago and to 26 beds two years ago, nine housed in the East Luray residential facility and the remainder off-site. "They have constantly urged us to add new beds."
Now the Guest House program is able to open a new residential facility on Payne Street that will increase the bed allocation to 30 women. "This will allow us to move 21 women who have been temporarily housed to our new residential facility."
She says the 21 women were housed in the Hamlet apartment community, but it wasn't ideal. “We know the residential model works." The new residential location is close to Del Ray and to some of their community partners. Galloway stresses they use their community partners as much as possible. "We've been lucky to have them."
Galloway says the Department of Corrections contract pays for about 2/3 of the Guest House program. "We have to meet a lot of very stringent goals under this contract. For instance, unless the women are at work we have to know where they are every couple of hours, and in what vehicle."
Fundraisers, grants, assistance from local jurisdictions and "pretty much anyone who will help" supplement program needs not paid for by the Department of Corrections. Galloway points out that one of these important extras which is essential to the success of the program is a new Workforce and Development class held five days a week which "we've found is very important." She explains women get an assessment through an evidence-based program where they identify the women's strengths and weaknesses and where they need additional support.
Galloway says they have never had to lobby the legislature for money. "They came to us. We have always had good support from the Department of Corrections and our state legislators." She continues, "well, I think that when you are trying to do good work that people see that. And," she says, “We kept pushing through so that what some would see as a roadblock we would see as an opportunity. We don't believe in no; we believe in go."
Galloway says a recent change in the program has extended the three-month residential stay to six months. The program provides a structured home environment. The houses have bedrooms and baths, kitchen, living room and dining room with meeting rooms in the basement for counseling sessions or AA meetings. Services and support as well as an individual mentor and case manager are available for each person. Galloway says these women come with trauma, abuse and neglect. “They have so many barriers. You have to provide structure and build trust. Change can be difficult.
"We petitioned the Department of Corrections to lengthen the time based on best practices research and through experience. We can't expect these women to change their whole life in three months." But she says the disadvantage of extending the residential time period from three to six months is that they received 400 applications which means the women don't turn over as fast and the program can't serve as many women.
An Aftercare program helps clients for up to two years after the residential program and assists them as they transition into independent living. If a person completes the entire program, Galloway says the recidivism rate is less than 15 percent.
Galloway praises the staff. "It's so amazing what they do." Since she came as the only full-time staff member, they have grown to 12 full time staff and 20 part time including operations, case managers, mentors, development and office application. "The staff has made a really big difference."
Galloway says, “This is the hardest thing I've done in my life and can be mentally exhausting, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. When you get to be with people when they are changing their lives, it is pretty significant. To be able to walk by their side has made me a better person.”
For more information, contact Friends of Guest House at: 703-549-8072 or email@example.com