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The Augusta Chronicle

'Unite to help': Nonprofit to open reentry home for former female inmates in Augusta

By Alexandra Koch, Augusta Chronicle,

2023-10-11

Eight women who were incarcerated in Augusta will have an opportunity to rebuild their lives with help from the new ReNforce home for women.

Charlotte Garnes, founder of ReNforce , started the nonprofit to help support system-impacted individuals as they rejoined the workforce. Her mission to help those who were previously incarcerated stemmed from her own time incarnated and her experience of being fired because of her prior conviction.

"I was working for an organization and once they found out about my background, they terminated me," Garnes said. "I created the nonprofit out of what I call 'righteous anger' in hopes of ... it not happening to someone else, but then to be able to provide support and training for career seekers as they exit incarceration."

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ReNforce has taken its initiative a step further, purchasing a home in Augusta that will house eight women who were recently released from prison.

While Garnes was working in Savannah, she became involved in the Bail Project and during her visits to Augusta, realized the need for more resources for previously incarcerated women.

"I saw that there was a true disconnect of services and resources for justice-involved individuals, specifically for housing," she said. "As I began to look at the statistics of people returning from incarceration in Georgia, the CSRA region is number two outside of Fulton County. It felt like this is definitely where the work should be, because this is where more people are returning home and more resources should be fit into an area."

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Garnes said Savannah used to hold the number two spot, but the Augusta area has now surpassed it.

"Augusta is a beautiful city, but it does not get the same recognition that Savannah may get," she said. "I wanted to be able to be in an area where the need was greater, but yet the resources were limited."

With women being the fastest growing prison population, Garnes said she wanted to focus on helping support that population as they exit incarceration.

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"Most reentry programs are designed for just men, because back in the day it was only men who went to prison," she said. "I think that's still the system that's in place. Women doing their time is totally different than a man doing his time. There should be trauma-informed care for women coming out, because a lot of women suffer trauma prior to going into prison and then need those services when they exit prison."

With the current state of the housing market, Garnes said she fought for nearly a year to secure the new home for women. She finally found the perfect location in south Augusta.

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"They will have wraparound services that address women's needs that reentry services don't typically address," Garnes said. "That will be legal assistance, mental health resources, learning parenting and life skills, and employment assistance."

While something she feared, Garnes said she has not faced any pushback from neighbors or the surrounding community.

"My question to the neighbors would be, 'If we're not able to provide the resources to assist these individuals, what do we anticipate happening,'" she said. "In Georgia, over 4.3 million people have some type of criminal record – that's a huge population. My ask would be that people unite to help, instead of just dividing and being judgmental."

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ReNforce will be partnering with other organizations in the Augusta area to help address additional needs the women will have, including food, clothing, medical care and legal services.

Even though the first ReNforce home has not yet opened, Garnes said she has already been searching for additional locations.

"I'm definitely looking to do this again here in Augusta and possibly throughout the state," she said.

For more information about how to support the nonprofit, visit www.renforce.org .

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This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: 'Unite to help': Nonprofit to open reentry home for former female inmates in Augusta

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