It’s been said that “the first step toward getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are,” a sentiment Carla Benjamin, Executive Director of Welcome to a New Life, echoes when describing the state of mind shared by those who come to the organization in the midst of addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Based in Findlay, Welcome to a New Life is a non-profit program for adults throughout Hancock County to help them live crime-free, drug-free, productive lives.
“Somewhere inside there is a voice saying ‘enough is enough,’” Benjamin says of the people who come to the program. “We believe everyone deserves a second, third and more chances to have a positive, productive existence and to help break a cycle of addiction and incarceration that in some cases has been generational. There is no single path; each mentor in our program builds relationships with mentees. We’ve seen people graduate from drug court, get and stay sober, receive high school
diplomas, become employed, and be reunited with their children. Some mentees have even taken an interest in giving back to the community by becoming peer supports to others experiencing the same challenges they encountered.”
According to Welcome to a New Life’s most recent impact report, in 2021, 32 individuals were mentored by 36 volunteer mentors. Mentors come from multiple walks of life including business and industry, churches, service organizations and others, and they commit to working closely with mentees, building relationships that last. More than 11,648 hours were spent by mentees connecting with their mentors
throughout 2021. These interactions are wide-ranging from conversations of support and encouragement to connecting mentees to community resources they may need. Welcome to a New Life is only one piece of the puzzle in the journey of mentees.
“Our mentors show up,” Benjamin says. “Often, those who come to us have burned every bridge and ruined relationships; they have lost hope. Frequently, they lack family support. They are alone. Our mentors are literally there for them in person as trusted supporters who do not judge.” While not every situation ends in success, Benjamin adds that since the program’s beginnings, approximately 150 individuals have been helped, many continuing to make positive life changes.
An example is mentee Karen Wood, who describes herself on a #morechances Facebook video as having led a life of “bad decisions and incarcerations.” Wood became involved with Welcome to a New Life after being charged with a felony and was in the drug court program. At the time, she also faced a serious cancer diagnosis, a one-two punch that would have pushed many into a downward spiral.
However, Wood took advantage of working with program mentors who connected her with cancer resources, helped her navigate the justice system, stood by her through treatments, and cared about her when she lacked any supporters. Wood, who was mentored by Benjamin among others, says the program made her accountable. “When I first started, I didn’t even know who I was, but I became a person who is accountable. If you are someone who is getting into trouble, and you want to change and be accountable, this is an amazing program. I would not be the person I am today without it.”
As of this writing, Wood has been sober for 16 months, her cancer is in remission, she has reconnected with family, and is employed. She recently earned a Chemical Dependency Counseling Assistant (CDCA) license and hopes to help others in their recovery journey.
Welcome to a New Life was co-founded by Stan Kujawa, its Board President, and Harold “Puck” Rowe, Board Vice President. The program was formed in 2018 and earned non-profit status in 2019. It is supported through grants, private donations and community partners. “We are so thankful for the support we’ve received,” says Benjamin. “At first, some in the community were unaware of the need for the program, however, that need has become very apparent over time. We have to give people hope and support to become productive citizens and a part of our community. As they say, ‘it takes a village.’”
Welcome to a New Life is accepting new mentees and mentors. Mentors receive training before working
with mentees. For more information, visit www.welcometoanewlife.org.