Welcome to Doing Good, Philadelphia Weekly’s nonprofit spotlight. Every week we’re introducing you to an organization that’s doing good in our community. Every nonprofit gets the same five questions, and every week you get to meet the people who are making our city better. The nonprofit spotlight is here to lift your spirit, shine a light on the helpers, and, who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to get involved, volunteer, or donate to an organization you meet here.
This week we’re introducing you to Why Not Prosper, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women.
What is your mission?
Our mission is to help women from prison systems discover their own strength by providing them with the support and resources that will empower them to become responsible, economically self-sufficient and contributing members of the community.
How have you made a difference?
Over the past 20 years, Why Not Prosper has helped thousands of women through its residential program, hotline and resource center. Their programs have helped formerly incarcerated women:
- Find employment
- Increase job skills
- Retain employment
- Secure safe, decent and affordable housing
- Abstain from alcohol and illegal drugs
- Re-unite with their children
- Not return to prison
Across our four properties, we offer a residential program for 25 formerly incarcerated women in Philadelphia and nearly 45 in Harrisburg, PA, who need a place to land after living months, years, or sometimes decades behind bars.
“I’ve seen thousands of women’s lives change,” Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons, Why Not Prosper’s Founder and CEO says. “I’ve seen the women whose lives change reach back and grab another woman’s hand and bring them to the program and say, ‘This is where you need to be. This is where you’re going to get your help from.’”
Women in Why Not Prosper’s residential program find a supportive community where they receive trauma-informed therapy, attend 12-step recovery meetings, and help each other navigate the maze of obstacles that perplex and frustrate many of the 600,000 people released from prisons each year.
Can you tell us a story about the work you do?
A perfect example of the impact our work has on the women we serve is the story of Faith Bartley. Faith was skeptical at first when she entered our program in 2017 but she put all of her hope into moving forward and learning to trust God. She has gone from being drug addicted, insecure, lost and unambitious to being educated, employed and self-confident. And this within a span of a few years. She is now absolutely sure of her path forward and has become a role model for others. She has learned to listen to her mentors, instructors and pastors. While at Why Not Prosper, Faith has earned her Associate of Arts Degree from Harcum College and her Bachelor’s Degree from Chestnut Hill College. She is proud to be the first person in her family to graduate from college. She is an inspiration to so many because of her dedication, and at times, single-mindedness in attaining her degree. While at Why Not Prosper, Faith has had the opportunity to let her imagination soar and dream big dreams for herself. Because of her work ethic and finding out that she has many talents, she has enjoyed the trust placed in her by The Village of Arts and Humanities, where she is not only employed but has taken on a leadership role as a co-founder of the S.W.A.G. (Sisters With A Goal) program. She was also recently featured on a City of Philadelphia “Point of Triangulation” Mural along with Rev. Michelle. She is now a role model and respected member of the staff and community. Faith has been a real asset to the Why Not Prosper program and we are proud of her dedication and hard work in becoming the beautiful person that she was always meant to be.
What do you wish people knew about you?
We want women to know that there is a place for them, that we care about them, especially if they have been incarcerated. We know what women want to do when they return from prison. We know because we’ve been through what they’ve been through. “I know firsthand what it’s like to go through the wringer and get home from prison and not know where you’re going to go, not know where you’re going to sleep, not know where you’re going to eat,” says Rev. Michelle. “The cornerstone of our program was born from my personal experiences.”
We also want people to know that our program is about more than just having a bed to sleep in. It’s about having a community of support and encouragement. Without places like Why Not Prosper, women have no way of plugging into the resources that they really need and that are valuable to their survival. Women get help in finding and keeping a job, increasing their education levels, remaining free of alcohol and drugs, reuniting with their children and not returning to prison. It takes a village to make all this happen. But, most importantly, we want people to know that if you have the will to succeed, we’ll help you find the way. Our community really cares about you as a person. Everyone needs to understand that we are not our mistakes. We are not our experiences. We are somebody. Together, we will help make a woman’s reentry journey successful no matter what it takes.
How can people get involved?
There are various ways in which people can make a direct, positive impact on our community. We are dedicated to working together to offer women in distress a hand up, not a handout! It is definitely a joint effort to sustain our programs and continue our work. Volunteers are needed as mentors for our women, on committees for marketing and fundraising, as advocates and speakers, for social media engagement and as project leaders for our online store, health awareness campaign and even our food distribution efforts. If you have time, talent or treasure to share, there is a place for you at Why Not Prosper. Volunteers can get involved at www.why-not-prosper.org.