A reentry center to serve ex-prisoners is opening at the Danforth Memorial Library next month. Paterson is one of six entities in New Jersey to be part of the New Jersey State Library’s “Fresh Start @ Your Library” initiative.
Effort is funded by a $628,774 grant the New Jersey State Library received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Libraries are not receiving direct funding, but the New Jersey State Library will pay the salaries of the program manager and two social workers who will provide guidance and resources to the six libraries.
New Jersey State Library will also pay for GED prep materials and testing for 50 former prisoners at each of the libraries.
“Fresh Start was started at the Long Branch Free Public Library in 2009, as a service to meet the needs of its community and to break the cycles of recidivism. We are proud to launch this scaled-up effort at a statewide level and believe libraries are uniquely positioned as key collaborators in strengthening the work of government agencies and nonprofit organizations that help returning citizens find jobs, secure stable housing and complete other essential tasks,” said New Jersey state librarian Mary Chute.
Long Branch will continue to participate in the effort. Other four participants are the Newark Public Library, Trenton Public Library, Atlantic City Public Library, and Cumberland County Library.
The Free Library of Philadelphia will join the initiative during year two of the grant.
Social workers at each location will conduct individualized assessments to provide referrals to employment opportunities, library resources and classes, and job skills training. Libraries will also host community resource fairs with social service organizations, nonprofits, government agencies, and businesses seeking to hire.
The two-year program is being run in partnership with the New Jersey State Parole Board and the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
“We’re a community hub. Our job is to provide library resources to our residents. We have residents that have been locked up and have to come back in,” said Corey Fleming, director of the Paterson Public Library. “We need programs like these to help our residents.”
The center will also serve people from outside of the city.
Fleming said there’s space on the second floor of the Danforth Memorial Library to house the so-called Reconnection Center. He expects the center to open on Jan. 15, 2020.
“We are working to develop a national model of process and a toolkit of best practices for libraries to actively assist in the reentry process and meet the needs of this sizeable target population in their communities across the United States,” said Peggy Cadigan, deputy state librarian and Fresh Start @ Your Library project director at the New Jersey State Library.