Strengthening Community Bonds: A Journey of Discovery and Connection

As Jason Ho’omalu embarked on his role as a TLM Community Ambassador, he was faced with a fundamental question: How can we strengthen community bonds between TLM alumni spread across the nation? This question is what prompted Jason to create  the first TLM Community Ambassador volunteer event. 

Jason’s first step was to identify a common goal: success post-release. What does success look like for TLM’s alumni and what are the barriers they face? Being a returning student himself, Jason realized he needed to broaden his original focus– on the returned citizens at TLM– to those returning home everyday in different regions, each facing unique challenges and pathways to success. As  a volunteer youth advocate for an organization called Alliance For Youth, Jason also works to combat substance abuse and provide services to families. It was here that he met Kathy Hankes, a case manager at the 8th Judicial Veterans Treatment Court. Although her work was with veterans instead of formerly incarcerated people, there was overlap as both groups were system-impacted. Jason saw the similarities across the different communities almost immediately. Additionally, Kathy shared a mission very similar to that of a TLM Ambassador: creating fair chance opportunities and building strength through community.

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Kathy Hankes wearing a TLM shirt

With these similarities, Jason approached Kathy and asked her if she would be willing to share her approach to supporting program participants to find success  post release. The co-hosted event was successful,  where Kathy spoke about overcoming common barriers such as housing, finance, and probation/parole requirements. She emphasized the importance of a solid foundation to move forward with education and career goals, highlighting the role of community involvement as critical support for navigating difficult times. 

Since the event, Kathy and The Last Mile’s reentry team have collaborated to dive deeper into the barriers facing system-impacted people when looking for employment. And they have connected returned citizens from different regions with each other to build a broader support system. The team even met with local executives to advocate for changes in hiring and employment practices in Montana

This collaboration has been a transformative experience for both TLM’s reentry department and the  returned citizen community. On Kathy’s contributions, Jason stated, “She is a warrior in the battle for fair chance opportunity and is in full alignment with The Last Mile’s mission.” Her expertise in local services for returned citizens in Montana and her dedication to fair chance opportunities is not only inspiring, but actionable. Through this partnership and through Kathy’s incredible volunteer event with TLM, it is clear to see the  power of community and mentorship to facilitate successful reentry.

To get involved or learn more about The Last Mile, click the link below.