Marion County celebrates 'giving people a second chance'
When Marion County hosted the 10th annual Giving People a Second Chance community breakfast Thursday, Oct. 25, former Woodburn resident Michael Krebs was invited.
Ironically, the success of the programs the breakfast celebrated precluded Krebs' attendance; he was hard at work as an automotive technician at Capital Subaru that morning.
The county-hosted gathering included elected officials, law enforcement agencies, social workers and a number of area employers and educators, all on hand to recognize the differences made by Marion County Re-entry Initiative (MCRI) and programs like Student Opportunity Achieving Results (SOAR), a program to which Krebs will certainly attest.
Raised in Woodburn, Krebs, 33, described a stretch of years where drug abuse and homelessness confounded his life.
"I kind got involved in drugs and other stuff pretty bad," he said. "I didn't really have anything going for me, and I couldn't hold on to a job."
Krebs said things changed about four years ago when he enrolled in SOAR through Chemeketa Community College. He was initially circumspect, and the old habits didn't drop off easily.
"First six weeks were (iffy)," Krebs said. "Then I got to thinking 'you know what, this could be my last chance to change. ...I don't want to live like this anymore. I want to do something with my life and have something to show for it.' I started taking it seriously, and from there on everything started to fall in place."
Krebs said the program helped him to think more clearly, prioritize his time and activity and he eventually enrolled in Chemeketa's automotive program. He worked a job at Taco Del Mar in Keizer Station for several years while attending classes. He graduated from the automotive program and last August was hired on at Capital Subaru.
Similar stories were told at the Second Chance breakfast, emceed by Marion County Commissioners Janet Carlson and Kevin Cameron.
Carlson, who is in her final year after 16 on the commission, often fought back tears as she recalled specific cases where, given a chance, people would fight through mental illness issues or addictions to turn their lives around. She described MCRI as a program that agrees with the "head and the heart." It is the morally correct thing to do, but it's also logically best for society to see people become self-sufficient, working, taxpaying citizens and conscientious neighbors.
"They are us," Carlson said. "And they are grateful to be part of this work."
Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers also applauded the reentry work.
"These programs are working: Lives are changing and our community is safer because of them," Myers said.
County sources note that MCRI has supported more than 14,000 clients during its decade of service. During that time county corrections has seen a reduction of recidivism by more than 50 percent, and more than half of MCRI's highest risk participants are either employed or attending school, far exceeding the state benchmark of 39 percent.
The county describes SOAR as an "intensive 12-week treatment and employment program designed for drug-addicted persons of high criminogenic needs." Its graduates are 28.9 percent less likely to get arrested on new charges, and about 21 percent less likely to be convicted of a new felony compared with non-participating high-risk offenders.
In addition to SOAR, county officials highlighted a handful of other programs instrumental to the MCRI objective.
The De Muniz Resource Center is operated by Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and has served 6,000 since opening in January 2011.
Jail Re-entry prepares inmates at Marion County Transition Center for re-entry into the community, and its graduates are 58.8 percent less likely to be arrested on a new offense and 38 percent less likely to be reincarcerated compared to the general post-prison, high-risk population.
Link Up, a treatment program, takes on substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues.
Senate Bill 416 Diversion Program works with the District Attorney's office and courts to provide cognitive motivation and substance abuse treatment, case management and mentoring services. Marion County credits the bill for helping it meet prison diversion targets.
Women's Accelerated Re-entry, a 90-day treatment program for women with substance abuse and mental health issues, has seen 90 percent of its participants complete the program, half of whom were employed within 90 days of doing so.
Krebs' personal experience with SOAR and subsequent CCC studies provides a perfect example of the MCRI objective. But he would be quick to stress that the programs provide guidance and support, but the individual must take the steps.
"They didn't make you do it; you kind of have to do it on your own," he said.
Chemeketa was impressed enough with the manner that Krebs made it work that it highlighted him as a featured student on its website. Homeless a short four years ago, today Krebs works a job he enjoys and studied to get, and lives in Salem with his fiance, Evelyn, and their 4-month-old son, Anthony.
"Anything is possible," he said, "if you are willing to give up the things that are weighing you down and work toward things that will lift you up."