On Feb. 7, thirteen inmates graduated from a life skills training program in the Henderson County Jail. Sheriff Charles S. McDonald, the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office and the Blue Ridge Literacy Council congratulated two classes of inmates, one male and female, after they completed a four-week long module in a pilot program developed by the Literacy Council.
The Self-Advocacy and Empowerment workshops promote healthy, lawful, foundational skill building for life and work. Students learned about self-awareness, empowerment, change potentiality, conflict resolution, goal setting and emotional intelligence. The class also connected students with various resources offered in Henderson County to assist them with their educational goals. The workshops were offered on a voluntary basis and had no effect on the participants’ charges, status or sentencing.
Amber Hollinger, the Adult Basic Education Coordinator with the Blue Ridge Literacy Council, said “It has been great to come in and work with men and women in a workshop environment to connect with them, hear their stories and concerns as we deliver skill building that helps them to strengthen areas in their lives. The hope is, and the research shows, that it will be more likely they will improve their quality of life and less likely that they’ll be returning to jail.”
Hollinger taught the pilot program in two modules. The first four-week session took place in December; the second module began in January and concluded with a graduation ceremony on Feb. 7. Over the next month, the pilot program will be adjusted and topics added with workshops reconvening in March.
One student, Beth Blackwell, spoke about the effect the pilot workshop has had on her and the other students: “Being given the opportunity to be a student in a classroom again gives us that sense of self and self-respect back. Miss Amber would encourage us and give us positive affirmation that ‘you guys are doing a good job.’ Those are the things that make us feel like we’re contributing positively to society.” Blackwell went on to describe that the workshop made her remember being a little girl and having hopes and dreams and thinking she could do anything. “After this class, we’ve started to remember those things,” said Blackwell. “We now have the confidence to go do something else. We’re grateful to have a stepping stone – to get out of jail and do something positive again. We’re really grateful for this experience.”
Sheriff Charles McDonald and Blue Ridge Literacy Council Executive Director Autumn Weil presented students with certificates of completion during a ceremony held in the jail programs room.
“I’m very proud of the students and the work they’ve done,” said Amber Hollinger following the ceremony. “It instills me with hope that they’ll continue their journey beyond the workshop; that they’ll take the skills they’ve learned into their lives and careers, but also that they’ll have the confidence to reach higher in their careers and personal lives.”
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office is grateful to the Blue Ridge Literacy Council in the creation of this program and their future partnership in providing resources to inmates within the Henderson County Jail.