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A volunteer’s role evolves, but the purpose remains constant: To Serve

Posted on 07/18/19 by Michael Humes

The below is a guest post by Trish Spofford. Trish has been married for 25 years and is the mother of two young men. She currently works for Premier Computer Solutions in Cheshire and UConn as the People Empowering People (PEP) Correctional Institute Coordinator for Connecticut. Trish volunteers as a PEP facilitator at Cheshire Correctional Institute and Connections Coordinator at Cornerstone Church in Cheshire.

Volunteers are as vital to a variety of organizations big and small, and in every Connecticut community and town, as they are to AARP. They share their time, knowledge and experience to advocate for those who cannot be heard; provide valuable educational resources and information to further a cause; help people live their best lives; build and strengthen communities; and more.

This guest story by Connecticut resident Trish Spofford spotlights her personal journey to volunteering.

In December of 2017, I began to think about my youngest son graduating from high school in six months. His life would be changing and so would mine. I had been a volunteer for a variety of my children’s school and sport related activities as they were growing up. So while I was looking to take some time to rest, I was also itching to sink my volunteering teeth into something new.

That is when I remembered a previous introduction to People Empowering People (PEP). I jumped on the web to learn more about PEP. Much to my surprise they had a facilitator training scheduled for the end of January 2018. I have to be honest. I was unsure what I would do with the training, but had heard they had a team of facilitators that went into prisons to teach PEP.

I took the training and inquired about teaching PEP in the prisons. All the stars aligned and I was able to go into the Cheshire Correctional Institute where I was trained by long-time PEP facilitator Bob Sireno in the spring of 2018.

You might be wondering WHY go into a prison. I am sure there are a variety of “whys” volunteers make that choice, but as a Christian I believe we are called to serve underserved populations – and prisons are underserved.

Most prisoners will reenter society and if the community wants them to be successful then we need to be actively involved in their rehabilitation. People who spend time in prison face huge obstacles when they come out, such as discrimination when seeking acceptable housing or jobs. These are two of the biggest factors for the people who return to prison.

PEP is not a faith-based program and facilitators work with the participants on life skills. A sampling of sessions include Empowerment, Values, Personality, Communication, Problem Solving, Conflict Management, Coping Strategies, Healthy Relationships, Goal Setting and Preparing for the Workforce. I have completed two PEP cycles since my start in June of 2018 and will continue to facilitate PEP for as long as they will have me.

The best part about volunteering with PEP is the participants you meet. They come from all walks-of-life and each have goals they want to achieve. The safe environment PEP creates for the participants is another factor that keeps me coming back. The participants have described for me a feeling of constantly having to be on guard and watch their back when in prison. However, their two hours in class is a reprieve where they can let their guard down and show their true self. That is when you can build real relationships – which are hard to come by in prison – that establishes a safe person for participants to speak with while in the housing block.

If you are interested in volunteering with PEP please feel free to email me at tpspofford@aol.com.

This story is provided by AARP Connecticut. Visit the AARP Connecticut page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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