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Philadelphia group is partner of PC(USA)’s Self-Development of People

Why Not Prosper seeks to empower formerly incarcerated women

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

Why Not Prosper provides a spectrum of programming and support for currently and formerly incarcerated women. Its initiatives promote anti-violence, racial equity and vaccine equity in and around Philadelphia. (Contributed photo)

CHARLESTON, South Carolina — For over two decades, Why Not Prosper has been showing up in support of formerly incarcerated women in Philadelphia. Why Not Prosper is uniquely and intimately aware of the challenges facing these women. How? Because Why Not Prosper was founded and continues to be run by women who have, themselves, been incarcerated.

After being released from prison, the Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons found that she was far from the only woman struggling to re-enter society. She started Why Not Prosper in 2001 to support and empower other women like her. Today, the organization offers a variety of programming, such as pre-release mentoring at two prisons, residential services at three community houses, family reunification, substance abuse counseling and medication-assisted treatment.

Why Not Prosper, a partner of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP), is seeing particular impact with three different initiatives. The first is the Anti-Violence Campaign, which addresses violence in the Germantown community in Philadelphia. The program consists of female-led peace patrollers who walk the community every second Monday to hand out “love bags” and listen to the concerns of neighbors. The second initiative addresses issues of racial equity through a program called Breaking All Racial Barriers. This program examines and addresses the disproportionate numbers of Black and brown people in prisons through research and action. Finally, a third initiative seeks to address vaccine equity through educational workshops.

While Why Not Prosper offers an extensive array of programming, the program faces ongoing challenges with digital capacity and limited funding. Also, Covid made it difficult for Why Not Prosper to stay up and running while keeping everyone safe, but was successful at doing so.

Simmons, the organization’s chief executive officer, is a former recipient of an SDOP grant and knew that a grant from the ministry could offer crucial support to Why Not Prosper. “The assistance has been invaluable, as it has helped us to hire a coordinator, which facilitates the carrying out of our day-to-day activities,” she said. “Since SDOP is a national organization, it has also helped us to gain credibility through national recognition.”

This year’s SDOP Sunday Resource and Yearbook is designed to help congregations and others in the church to prepare for SDOP Sunday March 12 and to familiarize themselves and their communities with SDOP’s work all year long.

Because it is made up of formerly incarcerated women building up other formerly incarcerated women, Why Not Prosper perfectly aligns with SDOP’s mission to address injustice and bring about systemic change, Simmons said.

She also explained why she appreciates SDOP’s unique support: “It funds projects where the person who has suffered from the problem at hand is the same one leading the charge to correct the problem.”

This story is part of the SDOP Sunday Resource and Yearbook, an annual guide to the work of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People. It is published in advance of SDOP Sunday, which will be celebrated in Presbyterian churches across the United States on March 12. Click here to learn more about SDOP and SDOP Sunday as well as a survey to provide feedback on the resource.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Its work is made possible by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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