Age old stigmas and stereotypes have made second chances hard to come by for rehabilitated convicted felons in the United States. However, Operation New Hope will soon be changing the future for many St. Johns County residents by giving them the tools needed to successfully rejoin the workforce and society. Operation New Hope (ONH) was born in 1998 in the Springfield neighborhood of Jacksonville. Now, after years of successfully reintroducing our neighbor to the north’s most exploited citizens to the workforce, ONH is branching out in the Ancient City. The organization’s Ready4Work (R4W) program provides life and career training to formerly incarcerated men and women, decreasing the likelihood of recidivism by helping clients find and sustain employment. The nationally-acclaimed program also saves taxpayers millions of dollars annually by investing in people and communities instead of the prison system.
The idea to bring a reentry program to St. Augustine materialized in 2015 when representatives of Compassionate St. Augustine attended an ONH conference in Jacksonville. “Afterwards, we started brainstorming how to bring a reentry program to St. Augustine,” says Nancy O’Byrne, CSA’s Compassion In Action Initiative Organizer. With years of outreach experience and visiting incarcerated inmates, Nancy is a fervent advocate for workforce reentry programs and a facilitator for the ‘Alternatives to Violence’ program at St. Johns Youth Academy. Nancy has spent the last two years working tirelessly to help initiate the ONH St. Johns effort. To date, this bipartisan-supported expansion is strongly endorsed by the City of St. Augustine and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department.
Geared towards adults 18 and older, ONH will work hand-in-hand with CSA’s ‘Alternatives To Violence’ training program. Both will be temporarily housed in St. Paul AME Church’s Development Center. Still in its preliminary stages, the local branch of ONH’s Ready4Work launched on July 19 with an appearance by prison reform advocates Dr. Makaziwe and Tukwini Mandela, daughter and granddaughter of legendary South African prisoner and president, Nelson Mandela. With many opportunities to help and with much more R4W fundraising needed to open locally, the journey has only just begun. But the future is bright for this program.
Learn more about Operation New Hope at www.operationnewhope.org. Photography by Pam Oates and Amanda Mahan.