From the Desks of Our Co-Executive Directors
The WHY Behind Our Name Change
Nearly 50 years ago at the height of the social justice movement of the 1970’s, Berks Connections/Pretrial Services (formerly the Berks County Prison Society) was established as a grass roots, volunteer driven initiative to provide connections between individuals in the Berks County Jail to mentors and support upon their release. Over the years as we expanded our programming and grew our staff, we began contracting with the County to provide a pretrial program, connecting the judges with information to base their bail decisions, and promoting an equitable pretrial system.
We were involved in the establishment of Berks County’s first reentry program at the Berks County Jail. Our demonstrated success with that program ultimately led to BCPS braiding our services throughout the justice system, becoming a trusted partner with the County and establishing ourselves as the County’s leading reentry provider a decade later! Lessons learned from this program allowed us to hone and further define our area of expertise in the provision of reentry workforce development services, utilizing evidence-based practices and expanding these services to specialty populations including participants of the County’s Diversionary Courts, those on state parole, those with serious mental illness, and those in recovery.
Last year, a Focused Grant from our long-time funder and partner, the United Way of Berks County, allowed us to launch Reentry Works, a workforce development program with the capacity to serve all individuals in Berks County with current or past justice system involvement. Bringing our services to scale has been life changing not only for those we serve, but also for BCPS and has shown that our strengths can carry over to other marginalized populations. There remains a large segment of our community who struggle with similar barriers, but who we know with support, education and our connections can succeed!
Given this knowledge, the next logical steps for agency growth are to broaden our programs and services to include strategies designed to reduce the likelihood of justice system involvement. In addition, many of our employment partners and fellow social service agencies have recognized the value of our cognitive interventions and the impact they have in creating successful employment outcomes for those we serve and expressed an interest in how they can replicate our successful outcomes. In response, we have designed and implemented our Employee Essentials training program that incorporates the foundational aspects of our work. This contracted service will increase employability and job retention for populations beyond those we serve, having a widespread positive impact on the community.
As we reflect on where we are now and where we are headed, we realize it is time for a new identity – one that better represents who we are, what we do, and who we serve. Over the past year, we asked the community to tell us what BCPS means to them and used that feedback to create our new identity, one that better represents the depth and breadth of our current services, and our strategy to continue to enhance our impact on the community.
We are now Connections Work. Through our decades of service we have proven that the connections we make and the opportunities we create change lives and improve communities!
Peggy Kershner Nikki Schnovel
Co-Executive Director Co-Executive Director