Tasha White and Tricia Patricelli sit tucked away in a small house across the street from the Kent Police station in downtown Kent ready to help former jail inmates get their lives back on track.
White is a paid office manager and Patricelli a volunteer client advocate for New Connections of South King County. They work with men and women recently released from the city of Kent jail or the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center county jail.
They help the former offenders with tasks such as getting their driver license reinstated, setting up a voice mail and mailing address at the office as well as giving them referrals to agencies for drug or alcohol treatment, housing, schooling and jobs.
“Most of the people are in some kind of recovery and to recover their life they need a little help to put everything back in order,” White said during a recent interview at her office. “We’re the ones to help.”
New Connections opened in 2001. It is a nonprofit agency under the umbrella of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The operation is funded by private donations as well as grants from the cities of Kent and Auburn.
“We give everybody a chance,” White said. “We treat every person like they can make it happen. We’ll be their cheerleader.”
The office is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at 412 W. Titus St. No appointments are necessary. Former inmates can simply show up at the door and ask for help.
White also teaches a life skills class at the city jail. She sees many of the inmates who attend her classes show up at New Connections after their release.
“I tell them I’ll see them when they get out of jail,” White said.
Many men and women leave jail without a driver license or with a suspended license. The state driver licensing office in Kent often refers former inmates to New Connections to guide them through the process of getting their license reinstated.
Randall Smith, who runs All Pro Building Maintenance in Kent, serves as president of the advisory committee for New Connections. He has watched the agency serve many people.
“This is ground roots,” Smith said. “It’s small and underfunded. I got involved because people come here and where would they go if this was not here? People should not have to go to Seattle for help with getting their driver license. To be able to get the service here in Kent is important.”
New Connections served 500 clients through the first seven months of 2010. The only fees are $10 for help with a driver license. Every other service is free.
Most clients find out about the agency through word of mouth, although New Connections does have brochures at the city jail and a large poster displayed at the Regional Justice Center.
“We’re open to anybody,” White said. “The only requirement is a willingness to come.”
New Connections networks with numerous nonprofit agencies to refer people for needs with food, housing, drug or alcohol treatment, job training and employment.
“She (White) is the one who knows where to go and who to see,” Smith said.
White gave Patricelli credit as well.
“Tricia is a resource queen,” White said. “It’s a blessing we’ve got her.”
The needs for clients can be basic during their initial transition back into society.
“People who are released from jail a lot of times are homeless,” White said. “They don’t even have a basic kit to clean up. We give them some hope with a kit, a place to sleep and we can help them compose a resume.”
The agency even has given out tents to families who had nowhere to sleep.
“It’s hard for women with children ages 13 to 16 to find shelters because a lot of shelters will not take families,” White said. “Sometimes the choices are pretty slim and they sleep in a car or find a tent.”
White, who has worked four years at New Connections, believes the program makes an impact.
“If they come here, they’ll start doing things differently,” White said. “We’re making a healthy community by adding a productive citizen.”
For more information, call New Connections at 253-856-9200 or e-mail NewConnectionSKC@aol.com.