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Behind the Mask: Tough Love

Tough Love to Set Someone Down the Right Path

Behind the mask meet Kimberly Love – a proud Oaklyn-native, mother and Director of Specialized Offender Services and the Community Resource Center (CRC) at Volunteers of America Delaware Valley.

Kim’s job is not an easy one. In fact, Kim serves arguably one of the communities’ most difficult populations: ex-offenders who have been released from prison and under parole supervision. It requires mental fortitude, creativity, physical strength, ingenuity… and even some tough love.

In a dual capacity, Kim oversees VOADV’s CRC in Camden, which serves as a day reporting center for ex-offenders providing critical structure, support and rehabilitation, as well as VOADV’s Family Violence Prevention Program (FVVP), an intensive treatment program for males charged with abusive offenses against their partners that focuses on accountability and identifying critical behavioral patterns in order to spur change.

“These populations rely heavily on stability and support in order to succeed,” explain Kim. “As these individuals are released from prison, they sometimes have no one to rely on, no family to turn to and nowhere to go. Society has changed and they need to adapt quickly – that is where we step in, to guide them and help them on the road to success.”

The CRC invests heavily in preparing these individuals for reentry into the workforce with job readiness and employment support, but also provides case management services, outpatient mental health services, specialized counseling services and transient housing for individuals who may not have sufficient financial or family support.

“Employment plays a huge part in the stabilization of these individuals,” Kim explains. “That is why programs of this nature are unique and high in demand, they produce great results when it comes to keeping these individuals on the right path.”

Under Kim’s leadership, the CRC program has grown to serve hundreds of individuals each month. In 2019, the CRC has partnered with more than 70 local employers. Between 2015 and 2018, the program has placed 515 individuals in community-based employment.

So, when COVID-19 hit, Kim and her team knew they would need to be creative and innovative in their approach to ensure these individuals received the services they rely so heavily upon.

“The CRC was typically seeing around 40 clients per day for the outpatient services – Monday to Saturday, with clients having to be present for services,” says Kim. “In a world of changing health protocol and social distancing, that is just not happening anymore.”

Currently, parole services at the CRC have been temporarily suspended, along with mental health counseling services and the FVPP intervention and treatment program – forcing Kim and her team to shift gears and adapt to the evolving needs of this population.

“Just because services are suspended doesn’t mean that clients aren’t calling,” she explains. “They still have housing and domestic needs and we still need to make sure they have enough funds and services, like access to a laundromat, in order to live their lives – we’re still fielding plenty of calls like that.”

Recently, the New Jersey State Parole Board approached Kim and the team at VOADV’s CRC to see if it would be possible to transition some of the transient housing onsite at the center in Camden into COVID-19 beds for parolees.

Continues Kim, “These safe spaces are critical for those who have been exposed and need a safe space to quarantine. If they are indigent and do not have the support they need, where are they going to live? Where are they going to get these critical services? That’s the struggle and the motivation behind our work.”

As demand increases, the New Jersey State Parole Board has now asked Kim and her team to expand their role to help them identify potential partner providers all across the state of New Jersey who could quickly house parolees who may test positive and/or are recovering. So far, Kim and her team have identified providers in Newark and Jersey City to complement the beds they have already established in Camden.

Technology has also played a huge part in how Kim and her team have pivoted during this crisis.

“We just went live with telehealth and our IT department has set up each of our essential staff with their own tablet, to help them interface with clients virtually. We’re just trying to stay ahead of it all,” Kim explains.

Being on the frontlines, Kim and her team remain committed to providing support in any way possible during these uncertain times.

“Sure, it’s been a challenge. But some of these guys really do have no place to go and no family support – the work I do, I do for each one of them. We can be that needed support system, we can be that family for them in these uncertain times.”