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Future Foundations breaks ground at Clarke County Jail

It might be a chilly winter morning but the eight female jail residents do not seem to mind the cool temps in the secure, fenced-in jail yard.

Wearing navy jackets emblazoned with the words Clarke County Jail on the back and yellow beanies, their only focus is the Future Foundations Jail Resident Construction Program.

Future Foundations is a new programming initiative created by Sheriff John Q. Williams and the Clarke County Jail in partnership with the Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization whose vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Future Foundations is the result of months of brainstorming between stakeholders. “We talk often amongst our staff and community connections about issues that need to be addressed. When we got the right collection of people in a room, we devised a plan to provide training and certification right on the jail property,” states Sheriff Williams. “Then the idea was to actually build these housing modules on-site and assemble them elsewhere. The ideas quickly piled up about where to put the finished houses and how to use them. We knew right away when the positive energy and excitement hit that high level, that we came up with something that will make a difference.”

The mission of the Future Foundations program is three-fold; teaching hands-on job skills training, reducing recidivism, and building affordable housing. And the program participants are excited about all three goals.

On hand today, besides the residents, are Spencer Frye, Executive Director of Habitat, Ashton Sellers, a Spencer Frye Fellowship participant, and members of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Department. And they are all just as excited as the program participants about this groundbreaking collaboration.  “I am so proud of the work these women are going to accomplish through this program,” states Sgt. Gary Davenport who works at the Jail and oversees this program. “It has the impact to be life-changing.”

“The Future Foundations program is an investment in the entire community. The most effective means of cutting recidivism is to offer education and work training to inmates who have a drive to turn their lives around, “ remarks Frye. “That means not just a better life for former offenders and their families, but also a savings for taxpayers and safer, more prosperous communities.”

The jail residents huddle around Frye as he talks about Habitat’s primary focus to build affordable housing for program participants in and around Athens-Clarke County. Many tear up as Frye shares about the impact having permanent housing can have on a family’s life.

Meshel, a Future Foundations participant, remarks, “It is a great feeling to help someone on the outside and to be able to build something for someone else’s future.” Mystical agrees, “I am excited to learn a new skill and be able to put it to use to build someone a home.”

The women who comprise this first Future Foundation class were selected from more than 20 female jail residents who applied for this volunteer job skills program at the Clarke County Jail. They will learn practical job skills, both on-site and in the classroom, that can aid them in finding good, living-wage jobs upon their release. “That’s what I’m most excited about,” says Jeketer, another program participant. “When I get out, I’ll have a new trade under my belt and will be able to retire from driving trucks and can go into construction instead.”

After unloading lumber and boxes of nails from a work truck, the women learn how to read a measuring tape. They are apprehensive at first but quickly loosen up and begin shouting out measurements. When one woman offers the wrong measurement, the others jump in with encouragement, “Mistakes are how we learn,” says Selina, as she reassures other participants. There is no judgment here. 

Hammering and words of praise echo throughout the yard as progress is made on the flooring system, and later, the walls of the 160-square-foot house being constructed. As the women raise the first completed wall of the project, you can feel the pride radiating off them. “After not being productive on the outside, being able to do this and be productive now makes me feel great,” says Shelby about the progress they are making through this innovative program.

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