- Grove City, Pennsylvania

February 3, 2012

Higher and higher

Unique ministry helps convicts become converts

By Felicia A. Petro/Allied News Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — About 130 mostly incarcerated young women have been touched by a group of people who have given energy and resources for 2½ years to Reaching Up & Reaching Out.

"My opinion is it's the most effective program in Mercer County," said founder Carol Mitchell of Lake Latonka.

"Addiction is huge problem in our society, and people ask what's the difference between today and before. A lot of (addicts are) second generation, who had parents who were users. It is a huge debt for incarceration, and the success rate is not good."

Mitchell first reached up to God and out to offenders in Mercer County Jail when she became part of a monthly Bible study ministry there that was started by Grove City Alliance Church, Pine Township, five years ago.

"I realized we needed to go more often, build relationships and build a recovery program," she said.

She and others began a chapter of Celebrate Recovery - a Christian 12-step program - for incarcerated women in the county jail on Wednesdays 2½ years ago.

"Within a year, we decided if we didn't have a ministry to follow up with them, how could we say, 'Yes we love you. Hope you do well. Good luck,'" Mitchell added.

Reaching Up & Reaching Out officially became a non-profit organization in November of 2010.

It helps any person - female or male, incarcerated or free - in a crisis situation. However, women in their 20s and 30s leaving county jail who have been involved in the Celebration Recovery program have mainly used RURO's resources.

"Our mission statement is to establish physical, spiritual and emotion support for their lives in Christ," added Linda Porter, secretary and board member, of Slippery Rock.

"We foster love. We become very close," she said, with the women who have gone through the program.

However, they must seek - with RURO's aid - to find a home, employment, recovery program and church. They are not permitted any vices, such as lying, using drugs or alcohol or being involved with negative significant others from their past.

When RURO first started, it kept tabs on the women, but realized they needed to make an effort to keep tabs with RURO.

"We say, 'We're here, want to help you, but you need to want to do this. You're the one responsible.' We reduced the number of girls we worked with, but the girls we work with are more serious," Mitchell said.

"We are not wardens of these girls when they come out. We're not a handout group. We're there to help them make the right decisions," Porter added. "Overall, I think it's doing wonderfully."

RURO takes money and other donations - like kindly used furniture, appliances, clothing, etc. - to help participants with expenses, furnishing their homes and getting newer clothes to wear.

Volunteers - there are about 25, with eight board members - often provide the women with rides to job interviews and jobs, since many of the former offenders have lost their licenses. The women also meet with RURO's life coach.

"It's very time consuming," Mitchell said. However, "Our goal is independent living within 90 days. I think it's worked well. There are some who have done fantastic; some OK. Others are back in jail."

Right now, "I'd say there's 17 or so doing really, really good," Porter said.

Some were asked to speak for the first time at a church, Faith Gospel Fellowship in Leesburg, last month. The pastor's wife, Joyce Hill, helps RURO with the Wednesday prison outreach.

Nicole Rossi of Grove City volunteered to talk about being raised by a mother addicted to heroin.

"She had many men in her life, and there was no joy of having friendships in and out of school," she said, since the mom "moved all the time."

Rossi married an alcoholic at 18. She started a successful cleaning business, but that fell apart after her house burned and she hurt her hand. "I had several nervous breakdowns and turned to drugs," she said.

Rossi lived in Utah, running from the law, but eventually turned herself into the Mercer County Jail in April to pay her debt. She completed RURO's recovery program, and "has worked so hard to turn her life around," said Porter, whom Rossi stayed with after she was released from jail in June.

By last month, she had employment, an apartment and her son living with her. "All the bills are paid and the Christmas presents are bought," Rossi said. "I have supportive friends. My obsession with drugs is lifted from me the majority of the time. The power of prayer is, indeed, very powerful."

Roxanne Basham of Grove City also spoke. She cleaned up her own drug-filled life before joining RURO and became one of its board members.

"I was ashamed of my past and the lives I destroyed, but God helped me lift my head and said, 'You're my daughter,'" she said. "I can smile and look at the cops in Grove City because of what God has done for me."

It's been rewarding to help county-jailed women - as well as her own daughter, who became addicted to pain pills after having knee problems.

"Through prayer and the 12 steps we have come through that," Basham said. "I was thankful I could help my daughter."

Porter addressed the the church crowd about her work with the ministry.

RURO has numerous needs, including its desire to lease or purchase a "transition house," Porter said.

"When a lot of girls come out of county jail, they have nowhere to go unless they go back to their old life and habits. A transition house helps them start a new life with new friends."

Porter is researching grants to fund a house, which would also be very helpful for women coming out of state prison. RURO keeps in contact with women from facilities in Cambridge Springs and Muncie.

State prison inmates must have someplace to live or they cannot be released from jail, Mitchell said. "We have a lot of sad letters from people who are done with their sentences but have no place to go."

RURO is looking for support from county officials for the transition home, since there may be some restrictions about allowing women to live together who are on parole, she noted.

"For a lot of these girls, they need to have someone to care for them. Sometimes it's so sad to hear about their childhood, and never having a safe home," Mitchell said. "We need more volunteers and cooperation."

When the women get out on their own, they need furniture, kitchenware and linens, Porter said. RURO needs a coordinator to administrate moves.

"We need someone to look at inventory, make calls about where to take it and give directions on how to get there," she added.

The ministry also needs funding.

RURO had a fashion show fundraiser in October, with men and women out of jail who shared testimonies about their changed lives. The 150 who attended "were very touched," Mitchell said. "It helped break the image of what people think. We didn't try to sell our ministry but show people they can have a new life. It's very exciting to see."

It goes with an excerpt of a Bible promise Porter keeps as a signature on her email from Isaiah 43:18-19: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past: See, I am doing a new thing."

Reaching Up & Reaching Out has afternoon office hours at Designs by Anna, 153 S. Broad St., in Olde Town Grove City, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Contact Linda Porter at 724-264-4112 or 814-549-0044.

Published Jan. 14, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.