The following is a recap of a presentation by Jill Hanli, Journey to New Life Case Manager and Outreach Coordinator, Susie Roling, Journey to New Life Associate Director, Alexis Williams, 12th Street Heritage Director of Operations, and Tanesha Whitelaw, KU Center for Digital Inclusion Digital Navigator given to the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion on April 5, 2024.

Digital inclusion is crucial in today’s society, and it’s even more critical for individuals reentering the community after incarceration. Journey to New Life, 12th Street Heritage, and the KU Center for Digital Inclusion have all been working with returning citizens in Kansas City to promote digital access and skills training through reentry programming. 

Journey to New Life – Journey to a New Life offers four areas of programming designed to support individuals during their reentry from incarceration. The first stage of assistance is their First Stop Program, which provides returning citizens with a point of contact who will meet with them, evaluate their immediate needs, and offer assistance with everything from clothing to getting documents like a driver’s license or ID card. Some individuals may also enter Journey to New Life’s residence program, which provides space for 36 women to receive daily support in a peer-led recovery space for the first 4-6 months of their return. For both residents and non-resident program participants, case managers offer wrap-around support to help individuals access resources and receive the help they need to achieve their personal goals and establish stability and self-dependency. Finally, Journey to New Life offers employment services that help clients transition from short-term and low-paying positions to more sustainable career paths. Through partnerships with local businesses, Journey to New Life helps support job application and placement with employers that are inclusive of those with criminal backgrounds. 

12th Street Heritage – 12th Street Heritage was established in 1984 with a focus on affordable housing, but has grown to incorporate employment programming for men and women returning from prison. Participants in their reentry program are employed cleaning up abatement properties and beautifying local neighborhoods in partnership with the city. Every week, participants also get the opportunity to attend weekly workshops covering essential skills such as financial literacy, job readiness, entrepreneurship, and emotional support. Through these workshops, participants are connected with organizational partners like the Full Employment Council, who offer training that can help individuals prepare for careers. To date, over 350 individuals have come through 12th Street’s reentry program. 

KU Center for Digital Inclusion – The KU Center for Digital Inclusion’s RETURN Project offers technology education for women recently released from jail or prison. The education program takes place completely online, and currently includes an introductory module on basic computer skills plus nine core phases of instruction:

  1. Technology for employment (Microsoft Office/Google Drive)
  2. Online personal branding
  3. Business website building on WordPress
  4. Advanced Microsoft Excel
  5. Digital storytelling
  6. Advanced digital storytelling
  7. Business communications
  8. Advanced Google Sheets and PDF
  9. Introduction to coding

Participants access the lessons on their own time, with each module requiring an estimated 4-7 weeks of work at 1-2 hours per week. At the end of each module students receive a $50 stipend as well as a certificate of completion that they can display on their resume and show employers. Participants are expected to have their own device, but a partnership with Kansas City Public Library allows students to come into the library and use a checked-out laptop for classes. 

More than 300 women have participated in the program to date, including more than 100 in the Kansas City area. After graduation, participants are trained to be digital navigators so they can serve their community by helping to spread the knowledge they gain through the program. In addition to the online training program, the Center has also begun providing technology training for women at the Johnson County Adult Residential Center and Rended Heart, and offers a weekly in-person education program at the Shawnee County Jail. The Center also expects to begin offering similar in-person class offerings at Wyandotte County Jail soon. 

Further Reading

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Expanding Digital Literacy Programs in the Region: A Recap of February’s Digital Inclusion Learning Circle Meeting

The goal of the Digital Inclusion Learning Circle is to provide a space for digital skills trainers to share their knowledge and expertise, get tips to improve their programs and services and brainstorm new ideas. The February Digital Inclusion Learning Circle featured presentations from Pam Rooks, Refugee Digital Access Specialist with Catholic Charities of Northeast […]

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