Written by Amy Andrews, Photograph by Lindsay Kappius
Changed Choices was created to empower currently or recently incarcerated women to achieve lasting positive change in their lives. It began in 1999 when founder Ruth Snyder was contacted by her friend at the chaplain’s office at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office (MCSO). He had come across two women who were brought in on charges, “they were terrified and feeling very much alone.” Ruth went to MCSO Detention Center to meet with the women, encourage them and eventually mentor them - and Changed Choices was born.
According to Katie Gauntner, Development Associate for Changed Choices, “the concept behind Changed Choices is straightforward - provide supportive relationships and walk beside clients so that their life looks different once their time is served.”
Changed Choices reaches out to women in the Mecklenburg County Detention Center through classes, mentors, Bible Studies and professional counseling. With both secular and non-secular pieces, Changed Choices focuses on helping participants develop skills to rebuild their life while incarcerated and after they have served their time.
To be considered for the Changed Choices program, women must have at least two years left on their sentence, returning to the Charlotte area when they are released and enter an application process. According to Gauntner, “We are looking for women who are willing to work harder than we will, those who are interested in a lasting lifelong impact.”
Those who become Changed Choices clients benefit from the CARE program (Comprehensive Approach to Re-entry Effectiveness) which has two key components.
CARE 1 supports clients in prison. It provides correspondence with a Pre-Release Care Manager, a pen pal, a Bible Study coach and card writers and for some, provisions for basic needs.
“One of the greatest challenges for our clients is that the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming,” shared Gauntner. We have an extensive focus on correspondence and correspondence Bible study. “For comparison, what we’ve all been experiencing during the first few months of COVID-19 is like a drop in the bucket to what these women are feeling.”
CARE 2 supports clients as they return to the community, some come to the Ruth Snyder Home. Their Re-entry Care Manager and volunteers provide the tools and resources the women need for successful independent living in our community, such as housing, employment, and family reunification.
Changed Choices was the recipient of a grant from the COVID Relief fund through the United Way of the Carolinas and Foundation for the Carolinas. This enabled them to directly distribute funds to community clients to help defray immediate housing and food needs. “It is amazing how deep and lasting our connection is with our clients,” added Gauntner. “More than once, we’ve had a client say ‘we’re good this month’ or ‘share the stipend with someone who needs it more.”
Changed Choices is extremely proud of the positive and long-lasting effect on their client’s lives. They are thrilled with the success of the women who have graduated from the program. One shining example is their very own Pre-Release manager. As a former client currently celebrating her fifth year since release, she went back to school, got her Peer Support Specialist certification and is now helping other women forge their own fresh start.
Changed Choices, along with partnerships in the Charlotte community, is a leader in helping women build new lives beyond prison walls. Today, the very low recidivism rate continues to speak clearly to the effectiveness of the program.
Donations are always welcome at Changed Choices. Those looking to help can do so very easily from the comfort of home by writing cards of encouragement to clients. Changed Choices is also seeking those who would like more of a commitment in one-to-one volunteer roles such as becoming a mentor or a pen pal.
To learn more about Changed Choices, visit their website.
VOTE NOW: Changed Choices is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!