Saturday, December 12, 2020

Trusted Mentors, Equity and Inclusion - from a mentor's perspective

 The term "equity" addresses not just a leveled playing field; that is "equality", but rather an acknowledgement that a person, or group of persons have had systemic barriers placed in their path that cannot be remedied simply by removing the barriers.  If someone has a shackle on her or his ankle, then simply moving them to the same "starting line" where everyone else begins the race isn't equity.  It may be "equality" in the generic sense of the term, but not equity.  Moving them to the same starting line as everyone else AND taking off the shackle is how we achieve equity for those who have been heretofore disenfranchised.

Whether someone has recently been homeless, is a youth transitioning to adulthood, or a formerly incarcerated individual attempting to reintegrate into society, acknowledging the inequity that they face, and working to rectify it is something that TM has done masterfully.  Simply getting employment, or a place to live, or reuniting with estranged family members isn't equity.  Those are certainly steps in the right directions for an individual, but there are additional services a person from one or more of those categories will need in order to move to a more equitable space.  Empowering the person through financial literacy once they have employment.  Offering mentorship in the area of parent/child relations will assist them when reconnecting with family.  Teaching/advising on rights and responsibilities when a person has their own place to live.  These are all ways in which TM works to create equity for its mentees.  Lack of access to financial literacy, stunted knowledge as it relates to parenting, and a generational naivete regarding the care of one's home are all among the many root causes of inequity.  Addressing these dynamics in the way that I know TM does, is key to achieving equity.  

Thursday, October 1, 2020

This article appeared in The Criterion, a newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Corrections Corner / Ed Witulski

Trusted Mentors aims to help offenders re-enter society

Ed WitulskiRe-entering society from prison often presents a series of obstacles that are difficult to overcome, so people give up.

Since its founding 16 years ago, Trusted Mentors has responded to a vital need in Indianapolis to help people in poverty and at high risk of homelessness achieve stable housing and progress to self-sufficiency.

We provide trained, volunteer mentors to adults at risk of homelessness, ex-offenders re-entering society, and young adults aging out of foster care.

We train, assign and support volunteer mentors to enable at-risk adults to stabilize their lives and succeed in reaching new goals. We partner with multiple agencies in Indianapolis that serve those at risk of homelessness and provide mentoring for the adults they refer to us.

Trusted Mentors is the only agency in Indiana to offer mentoring to at-risk adults. On average, over the past five years, when the relationship lasted 90 days, 95% of our mentees achieved stable housing, and 90% of ex-offenders did not re-offend.

Trusted Mentors has continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mentors have helped their mentees file taxes, learn how to receive and spend their stimulus checks, plus provide important human relationships.

One mentor, Charles, says he has had more contact with his mentee than ever before. “Arlonzo is opening up more. He’s a cool dude in search of putting his life back together and is doing great at Ivy Tech.” Arlonzo is a young adult involved in the criminal justice system and is working to move forward with his life.

Brent and his mentor Bob were matched in mid-2018 as Brent re-entered society after decades in prison. He wanted a mentor because he had been out of society for a long time, and knew it would be hard going back. Bob shares that Brent has, “never missed a day’s work while having to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the bus and walk several blocks from the bus line to be on time at 8 a.m.”

Brent set a budget, including saving 10% from every paycheck for unexpected needs such as helping his mother pay for an emergency medical service. Brent has improved employment with the goal of moving into better housing and establishing stronger family ties.

Bob says, “This kind of ‘goal setting’ strategy is why I am proud of Brent. He is a humble man willing to do what it takes to establish the life he wants for himself and his family. He is succeeding because he isn’t letting his history define his future.”

Bob adds, “Whenever I ask him what during his time in prison gave him the positive attitude he has toward the future, his response is always, ‘during my first 10 years I spent 24/7 trying to figure out how I could do what I did without getting caught. Then one day I thought, what a waste of time! What I should be doing is something that would keep me from coming back once I get out.’ ”

(Ed Witulski of Trusted Mentors is a member of the archdiocese’s Corrections Ministry Advisory Committee. A member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, he invites you to meet with him to discuss mentoring by calling 317-590-6970, or e-mailing

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

On occasion, we like to share how our mentees have succeeded after their relationship ended.

In 2015, Tonya was introduced to Sipho and Sipho's young son, Leroy. Immigrants from Zimbabwe, they were waiting at the Salvation Army Shelter for documentation.

Sipho had experienced violence and trauma in both her home country and the refugee camps. Tonya and Sipho both remember Sipho’s tears, shared during their time together. And they remember the accomplishments, such as a degree from Ivy Tech in dental hygiene. Tonya and Sipho were matched for two years, then Tonya started mentoring other women. Since then, Tonya has stepped up to act as a lead mentor for other mentors.

Recently, Sipho reached out to Tonya to share her excitement that she’s now employed, married, and her son graduated from high school! Because Tonya is a realtor, Sipho and her husband wanted to know more about how to purchase a home in the future. Tonya was again able to steer her friend towards resources that can help her prepare her finances.

And Sipho shared that she doesn’t cry anymore like when they first met each other.  Her life is stable and happy, and she has hope for the future. We wish her and Leroy great success in the future!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

We can overcome life’s tragedies with the help of a friend

People decide to mentor for many reasons. We asked Brenda to share her story, because we know her passion and caring.  She wants the women she mentors to succeed. She not only mentors with us but she does bible study in the women’s prisons.  She also chose to join the board and help build up Trusted Mentors to succeed into the future. Here’s Brenda’s story:   

I didn’t go to college right out of high school as I was going to “take the year off and do my own thing”.  I was literally wasting my life away.  A friend of a friend came to my house, sat me down in front of my parents and told me that I was too smart and had way too much potential to waste.  He insisted that I go to college so he paid for my first semester of school – tuition and books!  He even went so far as to take me to school every day the first week to make sure I went.  Eventually I earned degrees in Business Administration and Theology and I was going to graduate but before graduation day came, my friend was murdered.  I opted out of walking across the stage to receive my diploma because he wasn’t going to be there to see it.  The celebration wouldn’t be as glorious.  

 Three months passed and I was scheduled to do chapel service with my pastor at the jail one Sunday and his murderer was ON THE FRONT ROW of the service!  I was angry.  I was furious!  How dare he sit there in jail?  (Silly, I know.  Hurt and anger are not rational) I refused to do the serve but my pastor wouldn’t have it – he made me serve anyway.  I’m grateful he did – he reminded me that service isn’t about me.  During that hour I saw the MAN – not the murderer - that was the act - what he had done – I saw the MAN – the broken, angry, scared, MAN.  A father.  A son.  A brother.  A nephew.  A grandson.  I prayed with him that evening.  It was the hardest thing I had ever done.  I didn’t tell him my story then but the chaplain apparently told him some time later and a few weeks later we briefly wrote back and forth and I told him my story.  He told me he made a mistake that will now affect him and his family for the rest of his life.  He told me he reacted in the heat of the moment and out of fear/panic.  He asked me not to let what he did destroy the good that my friend started in me.  He asked me to do something to help others – whatever that may be.  

 People ask me why I decided to become a volunteer mentor – this is why.  I do it to carry on the legacy of someone who believed in me more than I believed in myself; I do it to lift up and help someone who is struggling to rebuild their life after a mistake, addiction, tragedy or catastrophic loss.  I have learned that we can overcome life shattering tragedies when we have the support of a good friend; love is not color blind but honors and celebrates our differences and our similarities; people united and focused on a common goal are an unstoppable force.  

 I joined the board of Trusted Mentors for the same reason I became a mentor.  I truly believe in changing our city – one person at a time.  #changetheworld #mentorsmatter #trustedmentors  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Impact of COVID-19 on People in Recovery

Author: Mark O’Brien, RALI Policy Director

As part of our collective effort to keep ourselves, our families, friends, and neighbors healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must consider the impact the virus and our responses will have on people receiving treatment for addiction or in recovery. Simply put, the pandemic has the potential to alter the course of recovery and interrupt treatment, creating a new addiction crisis within this crisis. “Flattening the curve” and “social distancing” are the watchwords of the day, but recovery is about community, and community requires togetherness. Being apart and avoiding gatherings presents challenges for people receiving treatment and support for substance use disorder. For example, counseling for substance use disorder is often delivered in groups and usually offered in person. Similarly, federal regulations require many people being treated with medications for opioid use disorder to receive their medications in person, often on a daily basis. Not only that, people with substance use disorder may be especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to other chronic illnesses, such as heart, kidney and liver disease – all risk factors for the novel coronavirus.  Individuals with opioid or methamphetamine addiction are also more vulnerable to lung injury or death. Apart but not isolated It’s often said that “addiction is a disease of isolation, and recovery is about connection.” But what does that mean at a time of social distancing? Many in recovery rely on twelve-steps programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous or other self-help groups like SMART recovery that traditionally meet in person. Participants in these groups and others in recovery rely on each other to support and affirm their recovery. But complying with orders to limit gatherings to fewer than ten means closing down meetings and staying away from each other. Some meetings have moved online using videoconferencing platforms. Experts say that video conferencing or telephone calls, while not ideal, are preferable to texting, which some believe can create even more of this sense of isolation. Any way that people can stay connected, even if they can’t be in the same room, is a step in the right direction. Treatment at Home COVID-19 is also complicating access to addiction treatment, including counseling and medication. Group sessions and even one-on-one in-person counseling risks facilitating the spread of infection and negating the helpful impact of social distancing. Increased use of telehealth is one way patients can receive the care they need without creating additional risks to their health and the safety of their community. While most addiction counseling has traditionally been delivered in person, in recent years telehealth has been expanded to serve rural communities and other patients who lack access to in-person treatment. For patients who need or already receive medication-assisted treatment for addiction, social distancing presents practical challenges to medication access. Federal regulations generally require a physician to examine a patient in person before prescribing a controlled substance. Regulations also require some treatments for opioid use disorder to be administered in person at highly regulated Opioid Treatment Programs. For most patients, that means waiting in line for their dose on a daily basis. The concern would be that, patients will either continue to show up to receive their needed medication, putting themselves and others at greater risk of infection, or they will stop receiving medication and put their recovery at risk. Federal regulators have stepped in to make access easier. Under the national public health emergency declaration, DEA-registered providers may prescribe medications without an in-person examination. And the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is permitting states to make decisions on how to proceed with telehealth services. Conclusion We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, and we must all do our part to “flatten the curve” and ensure our health system is able to meet the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we keep our distance to avoid the spread of infection, we must think creatively about ways we can fill the gap to ensure patients with substance use disorder can continue to receive the services they need to stay healthy. Technology and regulatory flexibility are two tools we have available that are making a difference.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Announcing the 2020 LIFT Award winners to be presented at the Empowerment Luncheon!

Tickets are still available! 
Mickey Hollinquestwas nominated by his mentor, Mike Caskey.  Mickey is a graduate of the Changing Lives Forever program at St. Vincent de Paul and they were matched in early 2018.  Mike says “On our first meeting Mickey already had a list of goals made out all we had to do is to get everything in motion.” Since that meeting, Mickey has obtained a driver's license, which took a few try's but he never gave up. He became employed at Mission 27.  To get to work, he rode a bus plus walked an additional mile to get to the store. To this day he has not missed a day of work and because of his work ethic has become a favorite. Mickey saved enough money to purchase a vehicle and move into his own apartment. This past Christmas, Mickey got donations from family and his own pocket to buy gifts for children at Riley Hospital. He organized a few family members to wrap gifts and on Christmas Eve Mickey and his family delivered more than 40 gifts and stuffed animals for the kids at Riley. Riley Hospital has recognized Mickey for his efforts.
Mike says: “Mickey is a driven individual and only see's the good in people. When organizing the gifts for Riley Hospital he wanted his family involved to show them the importance of giving back. He is very conscious on succeeding in all of his endeavors and he wants everyone around him to do the same. Mickey has no quit or I can't in him.”

Brent Smith was nominated by his mentor Bob Tharp. They were matched in mid-2018 as Brent re-entered after decades in prison.  He wanted a mentor because he had been out of society for a long time and knew it would be hard going back to talking and getting to know real people. Bob shares that Brent  has “Never missed a day’s work, or was late for work while having to get up at 4:30 am to catch the bus & walk several blocks from the bus line to be on time at 8:00 am.” Brent set a budget, including a savings account of 10% from every paycheck for unexpected needs, such as helping his mother pay for an emergency medical service. Brent has improved employment with the goal of moving into better housing and becoming married to his fiancĂ© in 2021.  
Bob says: “This kind of "Goal Setting" strategy is why I am proud of Brent. He is a humble man willing to do what it takes to establish the life, and the style, he wants for himself and his family. He is succeeding because he isn't letting his history define his future.  When I ask him "What" during your time in prison, turned you onto the positive attitude you have toward the future"? His response has always been the same, "During my 1st 10 years I spent 24 hrs. per day, 7 days per week trying to figure out how I could do what I did without getting caught. Then one day a thought came, what a waste of time! What I should be doing is something that would keep me from coming back once I get out".

The Community LIFT Award is presented to The Bail Project Indianapolis .  Since, its 2018 launch, the Indianapolis Bail Project posted bail for more than 275 people and its clients have returned to 95% of their court appearances.  The Bail Project was nominated by Manon Bullock because they deeply believe in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  In today’s criminal justice system, poor people can become victims of the system, not necessarily because they are guilty but because they can’t afford bail. They sit in jail while the ones who can afford bail get out. Then they might plead guilty to lesser crimes so they can at least go back home, resulting in a criminal record that could have been avoided.  The Bail Project is doing the hard work on the front lines by ensuring that people don’t have to sit in jail and lose their jobs and homes while they are awaiting trial. The Bail Project does this by providing bail money, offering pre-trial support by helping clients to find jobs and housing, texting them in-court reminders and in some cities, arranging for child care and transportation to reduce barriers that can prevent them from making it to their court date.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Incredible Service of Trusted Mentors!

I am thrilled to get the opportunity to describe the incredible service that Trusted Mentors provides to our community.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) since 2009 and a Licensed Clinical Addiction Counselor (LCAC) since 2011, I have been consistently referring for all of their 15 years and have never been disappointed.  Jeri Warner used to be a one woman show.  She has successfully developed her program and staff to sustain that individualized person-centered approach.   Her staff is engaging and receptive throughout the process of mentorship.  They find strong mentors and do an exceptional job of linking mentors and mentees.  They are strengths-based and future-focused, taking on people in all stages of life, regardless of diversity factors.

Menteeship allows adults to build healthy relationships with safe peers.  This sounds simple, but is too often rare.  Individuals who have struggled with a serious mental health issue, an addiction history, legal issues, homelessness, trauma/abuse issues, limited educational opportunities, dysfunctional family or friends; or any combination have additional barriers to stable and mutual relationships.  In addition to having fun and trying new things, mentees will likely build skills in the areas of boundary setting, improved communication skills, and an overall increased empowerment through the consistent support and encouragement of being a mentee.

Mentorship allows a personal portal to a life likely different than yours, exposing you to life experience and diversity quite different than your own.  An opportunity for a greater understanding and empathy, while giving back and building up our community from the inside.  This relationship builds skills in active listening, engagement, managing differences in opinion, boundaries, and the necessity of self-care.

It is rare that a service can provide such differing benefits to both sides, but Trusted Mentors does.  My only wish for them is increased support and growth, as this resource is priceless to our community.  

Stephanie DeMaris