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Assistance program launched for those exiting prison system

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 7, 2020

 Chanta Paul, of Detroit, poses with her car, which she obtained through the Royal Oak-based Here to Help Foundation. Paul utilized the organization’s Returning Hope to Returning Citizens program and now works as an addiction recovery coach.

Chanta Paul, of Detroit, poses with her car, which she obtained through the Royal Oak-based Here to Help Foundation. Paul utilized the organization’s Returning Hope to Returning Citizens program and now works as an addiction recovery coach.

Photo provided by Bob Schwartz

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ROYAL OAK — Since 2007, the Royal Oak-based Here to Help Foundation has been distributing personal grants to give individuals who are down on their luck a hand up in a time of need.

On June 22, the private charitable foundation announced a new program called Returning Hope to Returning Citizens, which provides direct support to help residents of Wayne and Oakland counties reintegrate into society after exiting the criminal justice system.

Here to Help Foundation co-founder and CEO Bob Schwartz said the group has long been assisting individuals who need help with transportation, utilities, car repairs, rent and other bills after getting out of prison. However, the new program aims to streamline the process and offer hope to those returning home.

Schwartz said the program allows local individuals to apply for grants to provide basic necessities to enable them to live independently, including clothing; home furnishings, such as cooking utensils, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, appliances, pillows, linens, TVs and microwaves; and other items.

“The harsh reality is that former prisoners face tremendous challenges when released from our criminal justice system, including securing housing, furnishing their residence and finding gainful employment amongst other hindrances,” Schwartz said in a prepared statement. “With more than 650,000 prisoners being released from custody every year in the U.S., we must do our part as a charitable foundation to help with the basic necessities that give individuals a fighting chance to reintegrate into society and go on to live rewarding lives.”

He said the one-time grant awards generally range from $450 to $1,000.

“I’ve always been a strong believer in second chances, and this is our way of making that process easier for them,” Schwartz said. “Coincidentally, the state of Michigan finally got rid of one of the main roadblocks and just announced that the Department of Corrections would work to allow people to have a state ID.”

Chanta Paul, of Detroit, has benefited from the Returning Hope to Returning Citizens program. She was released from prison in 2018 after serving a five-year sentence.

“I had a very bad drug problem when I went in, but when I went there, I decided that I cannot do this anymore and took all the help they offered,” Paul said. “I started peer supporting while in prison and got certified when I got home.”

Now, Paul is an addiction recovery coach. She has worked with multiple organizations to provide recovery support to women and individuals in need.

“Once I got to my apartment, I called Bob up crying. He helped me several times. My spirits went down when I came to this empty place, but the counselor told me to call Bob, and he brought a lot of hope to my life,” Paul said.

With help from the Here to Help Foundation with home furnishings and a car, she is now working for Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

She enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and working to help others overcome addiction to truly enjoy their lives.

“Now I refer people to Bob. I enjoy working to help people better their lives. I assist them holistically, mentally, and I do a lot of advocating for them and teaching them how to advocate for themselves,” Paul said. “I love being able to pay my bills, I love my grandchildren when they come visit me, and helping other people brings so much joy to my heart.”

She said she feels that the community needs more organizations like Here to Help, because there is an overwhelming need.

“Bob was a lifesaver for me,” Paul said. “It’s not just little stuff. He comes with a whole lot, and sits with you and talks to you like you’re a human being and you’re welcomed.”

Since its inception, Here to Help has provided emergency assistance in times of crisis to more than 9,000 people.

Other programs available through the Here to Help Foundation include Working Cars for Working People, which provides a used car valued at up to $3,000 for qualified individuals working at least 35 hours per week; Let’s Keep the Lights On, which covers up to $500 of past-due utility bills, such as gas, electric and water; Roof Over Head, which pays rent or mortgage up to $750 or a security deposit up to $500; Road Ready Repairs, which helps with car repairs up to $800; Home Sweet Home, which provides furniture for individuals who experienced a recent fire, homelessness or domestic violence; and Other Programs of Assistance, which provides support for items not covered under other programs.

Returning citizens in need of assistance may contact Here to Help at heretohelpfoundation@icloud.com. For more information or to make a donation toward a particular program, visit heretohelpfoundation.org.

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