New program to offer former inmates ‘fresh start’ at Atlantic City Library

ATLANTIC CITY — Men and women recently released from incarceration will have help creating a new beginning through a program announced last week at the city’s library.

A kickoff event for the Fresh Start @ Your Library program, a statewide initiative that provides reentry services for those returning to their communities after serving jail or prison time, was held Thursday, according to a news release from library officials. The library, at 1 N. Tennessee Ave., will be a Reconnection Center, where those formerly incarcerated can get help finding jobs, connecting to services or getting education.

“What better place to help people than the local library,” Library Director Robert Rynkiewicz said. “We are a community resource center, not just a book repository. We welcome everyone and have access to resources that can make a difference in a person’s life.”

The library will offer one-on-one meetings with an onsite social worker who can provide individualized assessments and give referrals to employment opportunities, occupational skills training, library resources and classes, according to the release. Participants will also have access to job and community fairs, help with online job searches, applications and resumes, GED prep materials and training software, 50 free GED exams and visits by social service organizations to get identification, housing and benefits.

City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said his administration is “all about Fresh Start,” citing the importance of helping those returning to their community and giving them another chance.

“For someone who gets incarcerated and they’re looking to find their way when they get back home, to have a GED program, to have a job placement program and to have other resources they need to mainstream back into society, this is a great thing,” Small said.

It’s a two-year program, sponsored by the New Jersey State Library, an affiliate of Thomas Edison State University, through federal funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, according to the release. Partners include the state Parole Board, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development, as well as five other libraries: Cumberland County, Long Branch, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.

“Moving these resources into the library is a game-changer,” said Sherry Sandler, an administrative analyst with the state Parole Board. “The library is a safe haven and a part of the fabric of the community. (Those released from incarceration) were already coming to the library. This program will support the good work libraries have been doing.”

During the launch, Momtahina Afrin, director of constituent services for Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, presented a resolution saluting the library starting the program.

For more information about the program, see njstatelib.org/freshstart. To learn more about reentry services available, visit the library or contact Adult Services Librarian Melissa McGeary at 609-345-2269, ext. 3075, or mmcgeary@acfpl.org.