Restorative Community Coalition
Working with citizens in need in our community.


(formerly: ReEntry Coalition of Whatcom County)



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History

The story begins in October 2006. Irene Morgan, long time resident of Whatcom County, Washington, is going through a pile of papers on her kitchen table where she keeps items of interest until they are timely. I run across a hastily written note about an author who had been at Village Books promoting his book several months earlier. The name on the note was Don Kirchner, who helps people when they are released from prison. I have always been interested in this subject, feeling people need to be given a real chance at success after serving their debt to society. I called Village Books, but they had returned all the books and were not sure if they had any info about the author. They said they would send my request to another employee and I should wait for her call. At that point I felt I was probably at a dead end or it would take weeks to be able to pursue my intentions.

Within 20 minutes I was speaking to Karen Stanwood, Don's business partner who lives in Point Roberts, Washington. We talked for at least 30 minutes with great interest being generated on both ends. We agreed to meet within a week in Bellingham over coffee to exchange information and better acquaint ourselves. Karen gave me Don's book, A Matter of Time, that tells the story about how he wound up in prison and his experience while incarcerated. In the meantime I emailed Don, who was living in Sedona, Arizona and very busy promoting his book and traveling across the nation. It was a couple of weeks later when Don and I were able to finally speak on the telephone. We talked for only about 20 minutes, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were kindred spirits with the same goal in our hearts; to move mountains if necessary, to give our former felons of this nation, not only a second chance, but a realistic chance of being successful in returning to society as viable, contributing members of our communities.

I learned that while in prison for 2 1/2 years Don developed a program, The Society for the Return to Honor (amatteroftime.org), a program for people in and out of prison who want to change their lives and be successful when they are released. This interested me immensely and I became even more determined.

Don was making plans to spend the Christmas holidays in Point Roberts. Also I asked if it were possible for him to meet with a group of us who had similar goals. He jumped at the chance and on December 27, 2006 we had our first "Return to Honor" meeting in Bellingham.

It was a cold winter's day and the border was jammed with holiday travelers, and as a result Don, Nancy and Karen were almost 2 hours late arriving. (For those of you who don't know Point Roberts' unique situation, you have to cross the Canadian border twice to arrive in Bellingham.)

Because I had invited several people from out of county and we were going through the lunch hour, I provided a lunch of sandwiches, veggies and drink. We finally started the meeting with 11 people including two local DOC employees, Thad Allen and his boss Charlie Wend. Two other women DOC employees from Olympia were Michelle Walker and Alma Jackson (I was put in touch with these women through Don's connections). Those attending from our community were Jim Cozad - Interfaith and W C Homeless Coalitions, Vic Gou - Westcoast Counseling, friends of Irene's - Linda Santini, C.J. Prince, Josephine Pebria, my husband Gary and myself.

The discussion was very positive and hopeful. Upon proper introductions after Don's arrival we decided we wanted to continue meeting and scheduled our next meeting for January 22, to see what else might be generated from the community.

I had attended a Homeless Coalition meeting in October and announced that this group was starting and received comments from several people who were interested in being involved, Jim and Thad included.

We met for the first few times in the DOC's conference room on Cornwall Ave. Jim offered his church, Our Saviors Lutheran in Fairhaven and moved there in February. By then we had Pam Pearsall - Stepping Stones, Christa DeLano, Ray Heinzen - offender housing, Kirsten Hammer, Judy Combes - DOC, Ronda Breault - Assn. for Better Living & Educ.(ABLE), and Warren Kaufman on board. There have been representatives attend from Bellingham Police Department, Whatcom Counseling & Psychiatric Clinic(WCPC), Whatcom Counseling, Opportunity Council, Lummi Nation, and many concerned citizens. By April we had Amy Howell - Westcoast Counseling. May brought us visitor Bruce Odem from Kalama, WA, Gary Williams - WC Health Dept., Flo Simon - Bellingham Police and Dan Bolster - Sunrise on Sunset housing.

In the first few meetings we concentrated on our mission statement and honed it to: To provide and efficient and supportive network of assistance for citizens re-entering our community after incarceration, those homeless and others at-risk in Whatcom County. We soon had a very simple and temporary brochure to distribute. We were aware of the County applying and receiving a State grant from the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED) to provide money for housing the homeless and decided we wanted to prepare to be part of that program if possible.

In February, March and April, Irene spoke to a dozen or so service groups to inform the public of our existence and purpose.

By the end of June, State funding for housing through the Department of Corrections was discontinued for high risk offenders and most would be released homeless creating a public safety issue. There was much discussion regarding the negative consequences of former prisoners with no housing available to them. By this time we had decided to change our name to the Whatcom County Re-Entry Coalition because it better described who we were.

On July 24, Noreen Galano from WIN - Women In transitioN, came to visit and present their program to us. We also hosted a public forum at Fairhaven Library to inform people of the danger of the cutting of funds for housing for former prisoners and Ray Baribeau of Prison Fellowship attended for the first time.

Don visited us several times during the year, when he could. He and Nancy were in the process of moving to Washington. In August, Chris Cochran - Rebound of Whatcom Co. joined us. This was also the month that Jim Cozad authored and presented to us his High Risk Offender Housing Resolution. We honed it over the next week or so and presented it to our County Council for a unanimous vote to be forwarded to Governor Gregoire. We received letters of support from Sheriff Elfo, Homeless Coalition and the Whatcom County Democrats. An article appeared in the Bellingham Herald regarding our efforts.

In September, Richard Maneval joined us representing the Law and Justice Council. Several efforts to identify an existing non-profit organization who would be willing to change their mission statement and/or bylaws to deal with sex offenders and DMIO's (Dangerously Mentally Ill Offenders) who release homeless were unsuccessful. Since the need for such a non-profit is critical, we decided to begin the process to incorporate as a non-profit and apply for IRS 501 (c) (3) charitable status.

Pete Cilley, Kevin Byker - Project Hope, and Christine Furman - Pioneer Human Services, joined us in October. We also formed our Board of Directors, starting with four members: Pete Cilley - President, Kirsten Hammer - V.President, Linda Santini - Treasurer, and Irene Morgan - Secretary. Several of us were able to attend the Governors Town Meeting in Bellingham and Ray Baribeau was able to address her briefly. We also decided to change location for our meetings as all of us are from the north side of town. Ray Baribeau secured the Roosevelt Community Center for us to meet at 2303 Moore Street. Irene wrote Letters of Intent to The Murdock Foundation and The Pew Foundation for start up funds. Ray Baribeau invited Randy Shulz to present the Prison Fellowship Aftercare program. Jim Cozad attended a symposium and spoke with Harold Clarke of DOC. The next week Clarke resigned his position and left the state. (no influence from Jim, I'm sure!)

In November Sharon Stevens - Hope House Street Ministries joined us. Richard Maneval invited some of us to attend the Law and Justice Council and present our program to them. In order to be ready for clients, we have been working on several documents, i.e.: applications - jail and prison, re-entry transition plan, personnel policies and procedures, etc. While attending the Governors Town Meeting we encountered Sheila Brillson from WorkSource who would like to come talk and work with us. We were able to finish and mail our 501 (c) (3) application to the IRS.

In December, Ray Baribeau made it possible for our group to tour both of our county's jail facilities. We also finished as a group, mostly due to Amy Howell's expertise, the resource guide that the county needed to submit for the HGAP II proposal.

A topic of discussion for months has been our logo, brochure, website, insurance and fundraising.


Resolutions