The Shriver Report – Ex-Offenders Defeat the Pull of the Street
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Ex-Offenders Defeat the Pull of the Street
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If you happen upon “The Most Excellent Halfway Home” in Jersey City, you will find a group of women who have learned to rise above adversity by coming together and leaning onto each other. You will find a community of women who have recently been released from Hudson County Jail with a second chance at life.

Eradicating poverty and helping women in need is very dear to Same Sky—our birthplace being Rwanda after wanting to shed light on the devastation of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and needing to offer our help and hope; offer a second chance—which is why we jumped on the opportunity to expand to America. This desire stems from the fact that over 50 million people live below the poverty line right here in the United States, and an estimated 85% of women in prisons are mothers—unfortunately, the fastest-growing sector in the prison population.

Same Sky partnered with Former Governor Jim McGreevey and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop to launch the Same Sky America Pilot Project in Jersey City. We have provided the women of “The Most Excellent Halfway Home” (run by Reverend Gloria Walton) with training and employment to hand-bead the Same Sky Benefit Collection.

While they earn a sustainable income, they are also experiencing a sense of self-dignity and confidence as they put back the pieces of their lives together. They pursue their passions while going to school and getting the opportunity to help someone else, showing the world when given the chance to do good, they will take it.

The belief at Same Sky is every woman, one dream. And that’s the belief that the women at “The Most Excellent Halfway Home” have, too.

Cassie, a 20-year-old whose life has been changed by Same Sky, is now going to beauty school and has her sights set on bigger and better things. She knows she made mistakes, but she also knows and revels in the fact that Same Sky, “Unites us. It brings us together,” and that knowledge is power in itself.

It’s knowing, like she says, that while she might have had a hard time in her life that led her down paths littered with mistakes, there are still women out there that have it worse. She calls it “an honor” as she has the revelation that what she is doing—what she is creating—is connecting her to the women in Rwanda and making a difference in the world; making a difference in another woman’s life halfway across the world.

Being under the same sky, the dream is the same, and Cassie represents everything that is beautiful in this soulful movement: creating a piece of jewelry that not only changes the life of the person who buys it through the concept of ethical shopping, but also helps to change the life of the artisan who meticulously created the beautiful and meaningful piece of jewelry. “It feels good doing it,” she smiles, “I’m making a difference.”

Florence, another Same Sky Jersey City ex-offender, shares the same vision. By creating and beading—by connecting with her creativity and skills—Florence is investing in herself and says, “It’s exquisite to me. I’m doing it from my heart, doing something good.” She’s proud of what she has accomplished with Same Sky and Most Excellent Way, as she’s always eager to show the jewelry pieces, knowing it is for a good cause.

“It enhanced my life,” she admits, as she “put in the hard work just to help and serve another,” and more importantly, it helped her overcome the pull of the street. With Florence standing tall with purpose, she is now supporting herself through school so that she can become a certified alcohol counselor and reach a bigger crowd with her knowledge and help them.

While we may have provided them with a safe haven where they can explore their productivity and creativity, they have also given us their strength. They have given us their best self—their heart and soul—and watching them grow as they become a part of this movement is the joy of Same Sky.

The Jersey City artisans began with the Benefit Collection that can be found on TOMS Marketplace, DKNY, and www.samesky.com, and will now launch their newest creation: incredibly intricate and delicately stunning friendship bracelets with anchor and wishbone charms that say hope, love, and faith, with a retail price of $20.

The surprise to me is how much it has opened my heart watching these women as they work towards their potential. They create an opportunity to show my gratitude for everything that has been given to me; a way to channel all of my creative energy and watch their life skills being cultivated.

It gives me joy to be able to share my vision and good feelings with the people around me: This experience has not only given the women a sense of purpose, but also to my employees who also feel a sense of purpose. So it’s a win-win all around.

Same Sky gives women ex-offenders the second chance that has eluded them for so long by creating a market for them and giving them the option for change, where they—in turn—renew our faith in humanity, under the Same Sky.

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Francine LeFrak is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Francine LeFrak is an award-winning theatrical, television and film producer, a successful entrepreneur and a distinguished philanthropist. As a producer, Francine’s work has drawn attention to social issues of global significance, including HIV/AIDS, conflict and intolerance. Her films have been screened at major international film festivals such as Cannes, London, Munich, Milan and Sundance. Francine’s productions have been recognized with Tony, EMMY and Peabody Awards.
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