Second Chances Benefit the Whole Community

Toby Pendergrass opens the 13th Second Chance virtual fundraising breakfast on Thursday, April 22.

“Wake up everybody. No more sleeping in bed. We got to change it, you and me. Just you and me. Yeah.”

Elizabeth Jones Valderrama, Executive Director of OAR of Arlington and Alexandria, said that the goal of OAR in 50 years is to “not exist, not to be connected forever but to dismantle.” She explained that OAR has down-stream services that provide alternate sentencing through community service and works with formerly incarcerated prisoners to help them reintegrate into the community and to allow them to lift up their voices.

But she added that OAR also focuses on upstream services to abolish racism, to move forward in a caring, loving way and lift up the individual. “We need them to come back to the community or we’re missing out on a valuable resource.” She says folks we are connecting with are just individuals like us, moms and dads. We need everybody to support our work here until nobody needs us anymore.”

Board member Skakir Cannon-Moye, who served as guide for the online presentation, said the system is designed to fail people of color. “Anti-racism isn’t enough; we have to be pro-Black.”

Jones Valderrama adds, “OAR is known by its downstream work pre- and post-release but we need to do work upstream to look at the root cause so we don’t need the downstream.” This means understanding individual internal racism. “No, no, no people say. Let’s not say the bad word. But we drink the water of white supremacy so look at ourselves.” She says you don’t get it until you experience it.

She explains OAR has developed cohorts within OAR to put a whole team on this. They offer a 10-week course for people who come into contact with OAR clients such as law enforcement, sheriffs, probation officers, judges, to work on changing the system of individual internal racism.

An anonymous voice (to protect privacy) fills the screen. “I love walking in the evening to stretch my legs and to remember a time when I was powerless and didn’t see what I had to offer.” The OAR client continues to explain that when he was released OAR didn’t just give him a backpack and bus token, “or I would have been back in prison. They helped me re-enter the world and encouraged me to connect with my family.“ He adds, “They helped me find my place so I could see my contributions, could turn on my own light and let it shine.”

Another testimonial came from 32-year-old David who said the last time he was incarcerated at Arlington Detention Center he discovered OAR. First he met Charlie, who he explained was the fluffy therapy dog. He says when he was released “they were ready for me. I had classes, therapy. It was incredible.” He was able to return to his wife and family.

“I don’t know what it was. They asked me a lot of questions. What brings me joy.” And he realized it was his wife and five-year-old daughter that bring him joy. “I missed them so much.” He says he feels grateful for OAR. “They were with me every step of the way.”

Cannon-Moye says last year during the pandemic they were able to keep the OAR office open. “We had staff there every day to meet the critical need.”

But OAR had to make some hard choices that other non-profits made during the pandemic. “We had to let one half of the staff go in July. It wasn’t easy. We had to figure out how to best meet the needs of those most affected.”

He said two projects of particular importance this last year were Project Connection to provide monthly year round support to families while prisoners are incarcerated and a project with commonwealth attorneys and public defenders to pay court fees and bailout costs for returning formerly incarcerated prisoners.

Cannon-Moye adds a gift to OAR is a gift to the whole community.

Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves Arlington County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church. OAR's mission is to provide community-managed programs aimed at restoring the individual offender as a responsible member of the community by providing alternatives to incarceration, programs to inmates and services to ex-offenders.

For more information, contact info@oaronline.org.

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