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Last week, Surmiche Vaughn and her husband Scott Patterson welcomed Philippe Kelly into their Oakland home. Move-in day is always a special occasion at the Homecoming Project — the start of a new phase of life for someone returning to the community after a long period of incarceration and the start of a relationship that will be pivotal to their first six months of reentry and will enrich the lives of everyone involved. 

Philippe summed up the moment well: “Being incarcerated for so much time, this is what I laid in bed wishing for, that I would change my life so that I can be healthy and whole and in society again. It feels dope… to be on this side, and with a job helping others in their own freedom journeys.”

This particular move-in day was also a milestone for the Homecoming Project itself. Philippe is the 100th person to be accepted and placed with a host in Alameda County. Even more special, Surmiche learned about the Homecoming Project from her father Surville who has hosted 17 participants in his home over the past few years. 

The Homecoming Project thrives because people like Surville, Surmiche, and Scott understand that Philippe is not the same person he was 20 years ago when he went to prison and deserves a real second chance. “During our initial meeting, we were impressed with Phillipe,” Scott recalled. “His gratitude to be out of prison is palpable, and he is also young enough to where he can turn his life around.”

Homecoming Project staff provide the coaching and support Philippe and others need in the initial weeks and months after release. It’s a formula that works: To date, every participant has finished the six-month program with stable housing of their own; 95% leave with a job or enrolled in a job training or educational program; and none have returned to prison. That’s an unparalleled level of success, given the high rates of recidivism nationwide. The Homecoming Project has also channeled more than $470,000 to mostly low- and moderate-income families in Alameda County through the daily stipends hosts receive. 

As we celebrate this milestone, we’re also expanding: recruiting participants and hosts in neighboring Contra Costa County and preparing to do the same in Los Angeles County this fall. And we’re on the verge of launching The Center, a new kind of reentry resource focused on individual wellness, personal growth, and community integration and benefiting not only people exiting the carceral system, but also their network of family members and friends and the community at large. Freeing Wellness, the first of many virtual courses, workshops, and other offerings, begins Monday, Sept. 11. It’s free and open to anyone, no matter where you live. Advance registration is encouraged. 

You too can play a role in the Homecoming Project. If you live in Alameda, Contra Costa, or Los Angeles County, consider becoming a host — or just help spread the word.

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