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Catholic Charities helps ex-offenders get back on their feet

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 Dan Stendeback should be living the American dream right now, but addiction got the better of him.

“I made a lot of mistakes that led me now to have a criminal record, and caused damage to relationships with my family and kids,” he said. “My priorities are my sobriety — without that I have nothing and I will lose everything again; my girls, my family; and the material things like jobs and a place to live.”

“Helping somebody else stay sober and helping somebody else do good is helping me stay sober." Dan Stendeback

Arlington diocesan Catholic Charities is trying to help ex-offenders, like Stendeback, as part of their Welcome Home Re-Entry Program. Stendeback became the program’s first client after being released from the Fairfax Adult Detention Center Oct. 11. Dave Druitt, his mentor, got him involved in the pilot program “for people who want to go into a sober living house,” said Stendeback. “It was already something that I had planned on doing. Having limited resources (after) getting out of jail, it seemed prudent to take advantage of the sponsorship opportunity to get back on my feet.”

Catholic Charities is working with Oxford House, a sober living program, to house people when they get out of jail. Stendeback finds living at Oxford House helpful.

“Helping somebody else stay sober and helping somebody else do good is helping me stay sober,” he said. “I want to be someone who proved to other people that even the best of us fall down and some of us fall down really hard, but it’s about getting up and not falling down again, learning and moving forward.”

Sally O’Dwyer, director of volunteers for Catholic Charities, said the agency has been serving inmates inside the jails for years, but when people leave jail there are very few resources for them.

“One of the biggest problems is recidivism because people go back to their communities and … that is where they got in trouble in the first place,” O’Dwyer said. “We want to offer some initial stable housing to get them on their feet, and mentoring. I think the mentoring is important because a lot of people just need that initial support.”


Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge expressed his gratitude for the program.

“I am most grateful to those associated with Catholic Charities for their commitment to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society, showing them God’s mercy firsthand,” said Bishop Burbidge in a statement. “In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples that He is found in the poor, the stranger, the thirsty, the naked, the hungry and the imprisoned. Our desire to help prisoners re-enter society, make amends for their past, and pave a positive and productive future is in response to the call of Jesus upon whose grace we will rely.”

Many ex-offenders have limited resources upon their release and Catholic Charities provides them a backpack filled with toiletries, snacks and other needed items. O’Dwyer said Catholic Charities gave out more than 100 backpacks in the last fiscal year. The bags also include handwritten welcome notes, religious materials and a gift card. Funded by diocesan parishes, the backpacks have been distributed to those leaving jail in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties.  

The returning citizens are assigned a trained mentor to help with different areas such as housing, transportation, employment and how to stay sober. O’Dwyer said 10 mentors have been trained, but they are in need of more. Mentors will work with individuals and determine their needs, but Catholic Charities wants to have a team approach.

“Once the mentor is able to find out what the needs are, we try and work as a team to identify resources to help the mentor to be successful by stepping in when needed,” said O’Dwyer.

Connecting the ex-offender with a faith component also is important. The program will help them get to a church meeting or service of their choice to encourage that development of their faith.

Stendeback has found hope in the program.

“Having people really look out for me has given me hope that no matter what the circumstances, there is always an answer if you’re willing to look for it,” he said.  

For more information on how the Diocese of Arlington is observing World Day of the Poor Nov. 19, go to arlingtondiocese.org/2017worlddayofthepoor.

Learn more

When Prisoners Come Home: Understanding the challenges faced by those leaving jail and endeavoring to re-enter the community, guest speaker Kenneth Fails, a former prisoner. Chapel at St. John Neumann Church, 11900 Lawyers Rd., Reston, 7-9 p.m., Nov. 15.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017