Sit down with Executive Director Rhonda Mattingly to learn more about Bridges To Hope, as well as her personal vision for this nonprofit. An executive director, office manager, thrift store manager, and store assistant, along with many dedicated volunteers, manage the 4,800 square foot warehouse and the 3,500 square foot thrift store. Rhonda’s vision for the future of Bridges To Hope includes incoming housing projects like the Tiny Home Village, which will exist to end some of the current issues that cause the incarcerated to recidivate.
Q: What is your overall vision for Bridges To Hope?
A: We plan to continue collaborating and referring those we serve to the appropriate organizations for each individual’s needs. We work closely with many other organizations that provide mentoring, job training, leadership skill training, etc., so this is not something that Bridges To Hope has been or is focusing on. There are close to 2,000 people released each year from prison, jail, drug and veterans courts in Nebraska and our vision is to help set as many of them as possible up to not recidivate. Housing is a huge part of this, and with the Tiny Home Village, Bridges To Hope will begin filling that gap with a number of homes. Within the THV, we will offer referrals to the Nebraska Mental Health Association who will provide peer support to any resident in need. Our goal is to acquire enough funds to have our own certified peer support specialist on-site. A peer support specialist provides assistance with job search, substance use and mental health support, and basic life skills. We will also have support groups and individual meetings for the residents of the village.
Q: What specific issues cause offenders to reoffend and end up back in jail?
A: Addictions and mental health oftentimes result in relapses leading to parole/probation violations and being rolled up again. Lack of support or people [not] believing in their ability to succeed. Having landlords and employers turn them away because of their record and then once they do find employment, the pay is really not a livable wage, so they turn back to quicker sources of income: theft, selling drugs, or check fraud. The stigma alone is enough to say that nothing matters anyway, so why not act the way people believe them to be? Others simply fear the freedom. As ridiculous as it may sound to us, there are several men and women who have been behind bars for so long, they do not know how to live a life without someone telling them what to do and when to do it. They need complete structure and guidance.
Q: Where do you want to see Bridges To Hope in 5 years? What programs or new initiatives (like the Tiny Home Village) are you wanting to launch and why?
A: I really would like to see Bridges To Hope grow in employees. My dream is to add additional full-time staff to handle the following:
i. Volunteer Coordinator – responsibilities will be to recruit, train, schedule and supervise all volunteers at both Bridges To Hope and Bud’s Thrift Shoppe.
ii. Development Director – implements and executes annual fundraising plan to meet fundraising goals; manages portfolio of donors; plans and executes special events; generates donor communications, newsletters, and annual report; assists in creation of print, digital and social media content; networks and maintains regular correspondence with donors.
iii. CFO – oversees all financials of Bridges To Hope, Bud’s Thrift Shoppe, and Tiny House Village.
iv. Grant Writer – researches available funding and requirements; completes and submits appropriate applications; monitors and reports on all awarded grants.
v. Current staff – of course we would keep our current staff of Executive Director, Office Manager, Warehouse manager, Thrift Store Manager, and Thrift Store Assistant.
Q: Define the key elements of the compelling story for BTH. What is the compelling need, what are you doing about it, and what is the impact for those folks so they don’t re-offend?
A: The clearest compelling need is to lower the recidivism rate. We are trying to alleviate a small piece of reentrants’ stress by providing as many tangible items, referrals to other needed resources, and as much general support as we can. We maintain contact with those we serve who choose to stay in touch. Some volunteer with us at the warehouse or store, while others accompany us on presentations and share their stories via video. We sometimes also share job opportunities with a few that have requested assistance in this area.
We are a first point of contact and help give reentrants the courage to face their new freedom with the reassurance that there will always be someone around for them to assist in whatever it is they may need. Many of those we serve speak of how they feel labeled and judged by so many, but after working with Bridges To Hope, they realize that not everyone judges and labels.