The People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos (P&S/GyC) office in Lawrenceville is used to receiving encouraging new data and eloquent testimonials from area coordinators and program participants. Bringing literature to underserved populations — reading stories aloud and engaging in thoughtful discussions about them — is a reliable source of positive feedback. Some recent news from California, however, made us really sit up and take notice.

The “back story”: In 2016 a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant enabled P&S/GyC to train on-site coordinators to lead programs and provide the necessary materials in the Santa Cruz Public Libraries (SCPL). Recently, Rountree Medium Facility Community Engagement Librarian Jesse Koshlaychuk reported exciting news: the SCPL’s P&S/GyC program had achieved “Milestone” status. In this case it applies to participants in the SCPL — P&S/GyC prison program who complete 12 sessions.

Milestone Completion Credits are awarded to eligible inmates for successful completion of approved rehabilitative or educational programs designed to better prepare them to find employment upon release and thereby reduce recidivism.

Santa Cruz Library Services Administrator Brandy Buenafe’s instincts were right: “I first became aware of People & Stories in the spring of 2018 and immediately identified the program as one that could benefit justice-involved individuals in the care of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Not only will this program increase literacy in participants, it will also assist in their preparation for returning to the community by allowing them to practice pro-social behaviors, such as respectful disagreement, empathy, and critical thinking.

“The program will roll out in four of our adult institutions in spring 2019 serving both male and female offenders, with a goal of offering the program at all adult institutions within the next three years.”

In addition to Milestone credits, participants in P&S /G&C sessions were quick to recognize value of the P&S/GyC experience. Jesse Koshlaychuk, coordinator, reported, “More than half of people who complete the 8 or 12 week requirements return to class, signifying that participation is not due only to the certification.

Coordinator Ms. McGrew-Frede stated, “People and Stories seems to have the potential to humanize and heal in a way that is holistic and all-inclusive…. It’s like we get to unpack our literary heritage, our multi-fold ‘human beingness’ and actually try it on for size, in all its facets, right there in the room. And wondrously, if we like what we find we get to wear it home. For this I am grateful.”

“We are honored that our program has been recognized in such a profoundly meaningful way,” said Executive Director Cheyenne Wolf. “The benefits of humanities programs are often difficult to measure, but judges granting reduced sentences to our participants is about the most powerful stamp of approval we could receive. We are looking forward to expanding on this work in spring 2019!”

Visit www.peopleandstories.org to learn more.

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