Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation funds resource website for returning citizens

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 mini-grant to Project Reentry on August 6, 2018 to create a new website connecting formerly incarcerated citizens to resources in their communities.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Holly Wickham of Project Reentry with her grant funds.

Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation trustees present Holly Wickham of Project Reentry with her grant funds.

Based out of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, Project Reentry is a relatively new program that offers a variety of supportive services for re-sentenced juvenile lifers in Michigan. Project Reentry’s clients were arrested as children and sentenced to life without parole, but became eligible for resentencing after a 2016 Supreme Court decision. Now they are being released back into society, never having lived as adults. Project Reentry collaborates with a team of public defenders, master’s-level social work interns, and community organizations, united by a shared mission to help incarcerated people successfully reenter Michigan communities.

Many Project Reentry clients have trouble using the internet to find and access services in their communities. Technology advanced rapidly while they were incarcerated, so many websites and devices are difficult for them to navigate and understand. Project Reentry is planning to build an easy-to-use website that connects incarcerated people to felony-friendly resources near them. Users will input their location and needs, and the website will generate a list of nearby organizations that can help. The descriptions of the organizations will include eligibility requirements, hours, a map view, what to bring, and other important information. Project Reentry is planning to pilot the new website in Washtenaw County and then expand it to all of Michigan.

To create the new website, Project Reentry is partnering with a member of the Detroit Community Technology Project, a Detroit organization that specializes in making technology more accessible and expanding digital literacy. Project Reentry’s $1,000 Awesome Foundation grant will be used to incentivize focus groups with re-entered citizens to learn how to best design the website to fit their unique needs. Since Project Reentry has social work interns continuously working at the project for college credit, the website will be updated, audited, and maintained at no cost.

The Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation is the Ann Arbor chapter of the Boston-based micro-philanthropic organization known as the Awesome Foundation. Each fully autonomous chapter supports awesome projects through micro-grants, usually given out monthly. These micro-grants, $1,000 or the local equivalent, come out of the pockets of the chapter’s “trustees” and are given on a no-strings-attached basis to people and groups working on awesome projects.