In 1996, a small group of parishioners from St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in Bethany Beach, led by their priest, the Rev. Jim Lewis, conducted a monthly Bible study called Bethesda Gathering at Sussex Correctional Institution.
In 1999, the Rev. Max Wolf, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Rehoboth Beach, and Barbara Del Mastro, now the director of The Way Home Program, and several other volunteers joined the group. Soon after, The Way Home was formally organized as an offshoot of the Bible study into an independent, nondenominational, nonprofit program with 501c3 status.
For 15 years, The Way Home has continued to provide holistic support for former prisoners transitioning from prison into society and reuniting with their families. The Way Home participants are mentored in prison workshops and upon release are assisted with initial needs such as food, clothing, housing and other basic necessities.
Ongoing support is provided for transportation to find jobs, social services, banking services, driver’s licenses or other identification, educational needs, counseling, medical care, and completion of probationary requirements to meet their goals and responsibilities. Volunteers also assist in crafting resumes and educating participants with everyday things most people find quite ordinary.
“The Way Home program is a compassionate program. In most cases, we maintain contact with them as they continue to build their lives,” says Del Mastro. “We receive requests from prisons throughout Delaware, and we serve others who enter our office door in Georgetown.”
All of these long-term efforts have proven effective. An assessment released in September 2012 by the School of Public Policy and Administration of the University of Delaware, covering the period 1999 through 2008, compared the recidivism of The Way Home clients and other Delaware Department of Correction detainees.
The Way Home program performed more effectively than the Department of Correction on all recidivism dimensions. The various recidivism analyses showed the predicted odds of The Way Home clients to not recidivate are 1.23 times better than the odds for other former Department of Correction prisoners.
“We are proud of our track record,” said Del Mastro. “But, most importantly, we see people building new lives, taking responsibility for their actions, and working with us to help other newly released participants. We see people that are grateful for everything. These men and women have turned their lives around despite overwhelming odds. They are an inspiration to us. They are working, supporting themselves and their families, and looking toward a better future. Moreover, they are determined never to make the same choices that placed them in the Delaware prison system or other choices that risk a return to prison.”
Since 1998, The Way Home has helped hundreds of ex-offenders stay out of prison by providing case management for participants for less than one-sixth of the cost of incarceration.
The public is invited to attend a celebration from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturday, April 5, at Catch 54 Restaurant on Madison Avenue/Route 54 in Fenwick Island. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and nonalcoholic beverages are included in the $35 ticket price. There will also be a silent auction. Entertainment is provided by award-winning and internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter Doug James, a resident of Rehoboth Beach and New York City. Seating is limited. For tickets, call The Way Home office at 302-856-9870.