Our House, a transitional housing program in Little Rock, has been providing a pathway out of homelessness for families and individuals in central Arkansas since 1987. It uses a two-generational approach to assist homeless and near-homeless families in the transition into the workforce and civic life.
Our House serves over 2,000 unique individuals each year through their shelter, career center, reentry services, child care for children of all ages, and a homeless prevention program.
The reentry services are targeted to clients with a criminal history and focus on specific barriers unique to the challenges they may face. With the help of Our House’s reentry services, ex-offenders are able to put the past behind them and look forward to a brighter future.
As a way to expand its reentry services, Our House partnered with the Clinton School to form a Practicum team made up of four first-year students to research the possibility of creating a mentorship program.
As an organization, Our House strives for a culture that values the input and lived experience of its clients. True to form, the idea for the project came from the feedback of previous Our House clients.
“We did a focus group with our clients and they told us that they want more peer support,” said Miranda Deaton, a Reentry Case Manager at Our House. “They told us they want to build communities outside of prison with people who have a shared experience.”
Our House and the Clinton School have a long history of partnerships, including previous student teams. Additionally, Dr. Muthusami Kumaran, Researcher in Residence at the Clinton School’s Center on Community Philanthropy in 2016, completed his research in partnership with Our House.
“We knew that we had worked with the Clinton School before and that it was already a good fit,” Deaton said.
The Clinton School team of Megan Grubb (Indianola, Iowa), Logan Hunt (Newport, Ark.), Ben Washington (Jacksonville, Ark.), and Andrea Zekis (Little Rock, Ark.) began conducting interviews with current and previous Our House clients to get a better sense of what they would like to see from a reentry mentorship program.
The group also looked to other organizations offering reentry and mentorship services for guidance, including the Center for Employment Opportunities, Compassion Works for All, and decARcerate.
“They talked about greater availability and advocacy assistance,” Grubb said of the Our House clients. “They talked about help with soft skills and even help with what to wear for job interviews. A lot of our male participants talked about fatherhood and how to reunite with their children that they maybe haven’t seen in a long time.”
Deaton said that many of the clients who were interviewed mentioned that they are excited to see what comes next. Now, Grubb, Hunt, Washington, and Zekis will compile the information and present their findings to Our House this month. Additionally, the team will present the same findings at the 2019 Student Research and Creative Works Expo at UA Little Rock.
“We were really impressed and proud of them,” Deaton said. “They all come with their own skills but to be able to rally and get this together and make this work is really impressive. And it speaks highly of the Clinton School program and their teamwork and dedication to this.”
Our House’s mission is to empower those families and individuals to succeed in the workforce, in school, and in life through hard work, wise decision-making, and active participation in the community.