Seven tables line up together to form an open square, each one seating two to three people who have information regarding different education and employment opportunities for participants to take a look at. Four participants walk in and sit before a podium where the speaker, James Morgan begins his speech by welcoming the four individuals to the re-entry service fair for people coming to Dane County from prison.
The fair is hosted by the Madison-area Urban Ministry (MUM) each month as part of their Journey Home program, which was designed to create a network of services available to returnees as they navigate readjusting to life in Dane County. Each fair has a theme and this month’s theme was education & employment.
Morgan, 60, has worked at MUM as their peer support specialist since February 2018. He started off the session saying, “everything you see and hear here today is all about you. We all deserve to be connected and loved, just because.”
After hearing from Morgan, the participants also heard from special guests. This month’s guests included a representative from the Literacy Network as well as a representative from Madison Police Department’s South District. It then transitioned to an introduction of all of the companies available for the returnees, including representatives from Madison-Kipp Corporation, Madison College, Just Bakery, the Catholic Multicultural Center, Madison Veterans Administration, Shortstack Eatery, the Madison Department of Civil Rights and more.
Each representative offered education opportunities, job training programs, or other resources for the returnees. After that, the session broke off into the fair portion of the event. Participants can wander around to the different opportunities while enjoying food brought by MUM. The fair is free and open for all to attend.
“The service fair has been going on for a number of years,” said Morgan. “It gives individuals a chance to have a one-stop shop for access to different resources. It’s an opportunity to get a fresh start.”
The service fair is just one of the many programs and initiatives MUM has taken to ease the transition back into society for returnees. Their Journey Home program “works to reduce recidivism (return to prison), creating a stronger, safer community,” by “focusing on the areas of residency, employment, support and treatment, as well as transportation and education,” according to the group’s website.
Along with The Journey Home, MUM offers a Circles of Support restorative justice program. The circle meets for an hour and a half, once a week for six months to “work with participants to set goals and brainstorm ways to successfully meet their re-entry goals.”
As a returnee, Morgan participated in the circle and noted its significance in his current life path.
“I would not be where I am without the circle,” he said. “They have been there for me every step of the way. I know that I can call on any one of them to help me when I need it and they know they can count on me too. They are my family.”
MUM also has different job training programs, particularly a partner program called Just Bakery where participants spend three months learning how to bake while taking intensive courses in food services, hospitality and more. The class then bakes dishes and sells them at a popup storefront. These three programs are just examples of the different initiatives MUM has for returnees.
“We don’t turn anyone away,” Morgan said. “We are here to help provide that stable bridge for people.”
While this month’s service fair was at the MUM building, next month’s will be at the East Side community center, as a way to take MUM services to the people who need it.
“We are taking what we have to the community,” Morgan said. “We pride ourselves in meeting people where they are.”