A mentoring group aids women newly released from jail.

Kelly Dell’Aquila is the director of services for My Sister’s Keeper, a program operating from the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church that’s designed to provide mentors for women making the transition from jail to the outside.

Next week, the program is holding a training session for anyone interested in becoming a mentor or a volunteer with the program. The training will take place on Friday, June 24, and will last nearly all day.

My Sister’s Keeper serves mainly Cumberland and York counties and its mentors work to empower women just released from jail to make positive choices for their spiritual, physical, emotional and mental well being.

The program evolved from a prison ministry initially developed by Myrna Cook, a member of the Cape church, who realized that the toughest time for ex-convicts is the period just after their release, when they are often homeless, jobless and may not have the support of family or friends.

Dell’Aquila has been the director of My Sister’s Keeper for the past seven years and first joined the program as a volunteer in 2002. She lives in Greater Portland with her husband of 27 years and has four grown children and one dog.

This week she spoke with the Current about My Sister’s Keeper and why it’s such an important program.

Q: What drew you to the program initially?

A: When I think back to my first experiences with My Sister’s Keeper, I am struck by the strength and resilience of many of the women who have experienced incarceration. Most notably, I have been struck by their ongoing hope and desire for positive change and personal connection with others.

Q: Can you describe the program/mission of My Sister’s Keeper?

A: My Sister’s Keeper is a network of volunteers from Cumberland and York counties, who have been assisting women recently released from jail since 1999. The goal of My Sister’s Keeper is to offer services to women who are returning to citizenship by matching them with a trained mentor and using a “companioning philosophy,” which simply means to walk alongside.

The founder of My Sister’s Keeper also called the work done by both the participants and their mentors “incremental transformation.” In addition, My Sister’s Keeper works collaboratively with faith communities, government agencies, social services and correctional institutions and these inter-professional alliances are designed to be empowering for all involved.

Q: What is the responsibility of the mentors and what is the time commitment involved?

A: Trained mentors assist the newly released women with practical needs, such as housing and employment, along with providing resources and connections for anything else the women may need to be successful. Mentors and volunteers are required to complete nine hours of training and the time commitment required once a mentor is matched with an ex-convict depends upon the individual needs of each participant.

Mentors are provided with monthly support groups and on-going educational opportunities. In addition, both parties also engage in a variety of programs, activities and special events that are designed to be inclusive and social.

Q: What do the incarcerated women get out of participating?

A: The program works both within correctional facilities and within the community. There are no barriers for participation and most of the women who participate identify self-esteem issues, addiction or trauma and rebuilding social networks as their motivation for change. My Sister’s Keeper complements these goals by offering friendship, compassion and hope.

A closer look

My Sister’s Keeper, a mentoring ministry for women in transition from incarceration, is holding a training session for interested mentors and community volunteers on Friday, June 24, from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church. For more information, call 712-5962 or email  [email protected]

Kelly Dell’Aquila is the director of services for My Sister’s Keeper, based in Cape Elizabeth.

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