NJ State Library awarded federal grant to fund reentry services in libraries

Program will offer GED prep, job training and employment opportunities for returning citizens

The New Jersey State Library, an affiliate of Thomas Edison State University, received a National Leadership Grant for $628,774 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support reentry services in six libraries across the state. Fresh Start @ Your Library, the statewide library reentry program, will provide assistance for citizens returning to their local communities upon completion of their prison terms. The two-year program, offered in partnership with the New Jersey State Parole Board and the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, will launch January 2020.

“Fresh Start was started at the Long Branch Free Public Library in 2009 as a service to meet the needs of its community and to break the cycles of recidivism. We are proud to launch this scaled-up effort at a statewide level and believe libraries are uniquely positioned as key collaborators in strengthening the work of government agencies and nonprofit organizations that help returning citizens find jobs, secure stable housing and complete other essential tasks,” said New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute.

Participating libraries, in partnership with the New Jersey State Parole Board, will serve as Reconnection Centers. Onsite social workers will be available in each location to conduct individualized assessments and provide referrals to employment opportunities, occupational skills training, library resources and classes. Throughout the duration of the program, participating libraries will host community resource fairs featuring social service organizations, nonprofits, government agencies and businesses interested in hiring returning citizens. Additionally, the grant provides funding for 50 returning citizens at each participating library so they may take the GED exam. GED prep materials and training software will be available for those preparing to take the exam. The grant program will culminate in a statewide job fair for returning citizens.

The State Library’s IMLS proposal, “Reconnecting Returning Citizens with their Communities at Public Libraries,” included the library reentry program founder, Long Branch Free Public Library Director Tonya Garcia, as well as the Free Library of Philadelphia, who will join the initiative during year two of the grant. Additional participating libraries include the Paterson Public Library, Newark Public Library, Trenton Public Library, Atlantic City Public Library and Cumberland County Library.

“Fresh Start @ Your Library is a multi-state model for serving returning citizens through public libraries in diverse communities,” said Peggy Cadigan, NJSL’s Deputy State Librarian and Fresh Start @ Your Library Project Director. “We have an Advisory Committee of librarians and social workers from San Francisco Public Library, Denver Public Library, District of Columbia Public Library and Monmouth University. We are working to develop a national model of process and a toolkit of best practices for libraries to actively assist in the reentry process and meet the needs of this sizeable target population in their communities across the United States.”

This program is supported with funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS Grant LG-17-19-0082-19), administered by the New Jersey State Library. For more information about the Fresh Start @ Your Library program, visit www.njstatelib.org/freshstart.