The Ypsilanti organization “A Brighter Way” (ABW) brings hope to people who have been incarcerated by emphasizing people first: building relationships, providing resources, and equipping them with tools needed to rejoin the community.
We interviewed ABW Deputy Director Jeanne Ross and Executive Director Adam Grant, both of whom gave us an inside scoop on what makes this inspiring, relatively small organization able to help so many.
“It is important for people to know that people who are formerly incarcerated are simply people whose mistakes have been documented,” Grant said. “We are your neighbors, fellow members of the PTA, coworkers, and people sitting next to you in the pew.”
“We are simply people, and you often would not know we have been incarcerated unless you were told,” Grant said. “This is important because there is no collateral consequence of incarceration that is more limiting than the stigma associated with it. Holding someone captive to their past serves no other purpose but vexatiousness and is beneath us as a community.”
Making the best of the future is the focus of ABW.
“A Brighter Way helps formerly incarcerated individuals living in Washtenaw County to build a stable, successful life,” Ross said.
Connection, support, and reintegration are all crucial components of success.
“We support these returned citizens by forging strong relationships with our mentoring teams, community resources, and committed advocates,” Ross stated. “The benefits are a richer community, reduced recidivism, and increased public safety.”
They provide peer mentoring as well as individualized wraparound services.
“We meet the mentee ‘where they are at’ and customize the support to the individual,” Ross said. “This may include assistance with housing, education, job training, employment, transportation, and social support.”
ABW works in concert with many local organizations, agencies, and employers in an attempt to not duplicate already available services and programs.
“Our mentoring program stands as the cornerstone of our program,” added Ross.
The mentees learn to become active and positive contributors to the community in which they live.
“Essentially, our mission is to improve the quality of life and opportunities available to people who are formerly incarcerated,” Grant said. “Collateral consequences are far-reaching, and we take a conscious approach to mitigating them.”
ABW was founded in 2016 and is located in Downtown Ypsilanti at 124 Pearl Street, Suite 201, across from the bus station.
“We serve the returned citizens of Washtenaw County,” Ross said.
“A Brighter Way’s” main motto is “Reentry through Relationship,” which they describe as much more than a tagline.
“It is how we approach our work every day, understanding that implementing and sustaining program outcomes is based on the relationships we feed and foster,” Grant said. “It is important we convey who we are as an organization and how that is exemplified in our work.”
“It is important that we be authentic in our relationships,” added Grant. “It is important that we demonstrate the conscious inclusivity of our relationships. It is important that ‘our feet match our mouths’ in that we actually do what we say we are doing. Reentry through relationships is a way of interacting in the world.”
A Brighter Way currently has three full-time employees. They plan to serve about 50 returned citizens each year and have served 30 thus far this year.
“We are blessed with a dedicated and determined core of volunteers who lend their light to ‘A Brighter Way,” Ross said.
The founding of ABW has a compelling story associated with it as well.
ABW was founded by three friends with first-hand experience who faced the barrier and challenges of re-entering society from prison, according to Ross and Grant.
The friends determined there had to be a better way and partnered with a group of citizens from the Washtenaw County community, and ABW was established in 2016.
“Every director since its inception has had a history of incarceration,” Ross explained. “Many of our mentors have also experienced pitfalls and collateral consequences that our mentees encounter.”
The organization is funded by numerous private donations from local supporters, United Way of Washtenaw County, and the Ann Arbor Area Foundation. Recently, the Ann Arbor Thrift Store and Washtenaw County were added as funders.
Some of those associated with ABW are also creative artists in connection with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
“Though we are not directly connected to PCAP, we are a supporter, and many of the people we work with have been involved with it during their incarceration and with the Linkage after their release,” described Grant. “We support the artistic expression PCAP gives voice to and the catharsis it provokes for many of the traumas that led to incarceration.”
Ross and Grant added that there are many opportunities to volunteer and donate through the ABW website.
Those interested in volunteering can also do so through the United WAY of Washtenaw County volunteer portal. One can also content ABW directly to donate or volunteer by calling 734-896-3770 or emailing at email@example.com or through the mail at A Brighter Way, 124 Pearl St. Suite #201, Ypsilanti, MI, 48197.
“As a small organization, we are so grateful for all of our supporters, in all their forms,” Ross said.