Four years ago, Dave Bohnet and his wife, Luann, got involved in the prison ministry program in Rockwell City and Fort Dodge. The prison ministry, called The Church of the Damascus Road, was formed in 1997 to minister to inmates in both Iowa correctional facilities. Dave says his experience volunteering opened his eyes to a population of Iowa citizens that need help but are often overlooked.
“While we volunteered, we became familiar with the needs of people leaving prison,” Dave says. “Then, one day in church, it hit me: There’s a way we can help people.”
The Church of the Damascus Road draws on many volunteers from the surrounding area, including members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Dave and his wife are members of Christ Lutheran Church in Jefferson, which is part of the ELCA network. Through this network of churches and community organizations, the prison ministry helps settle former inmates who are being released from prison. Small groups of volunteers in communities throughout the state, called ReEntry Teams, help recently released inmates find housing, receive temporary grants to financially stabilize themselves, and create a budget.
Dave and his wife joined the ReEntry Team effort in Jefferson, and with the help of other community leaders including Pastor Debbie Griffin at Central Christian Church, Pastor Julie Poulsen at First United Methodist Church and Pastor Bill Burnau at Grace Lutheran Church, they have helped former inmates settle in the area and begin a new life.
“Through recommendations, we identify people that would be a good fit for certain communities,” Dave says. “There’s an application process. We put people on a list, and then our teams throughout the state work on finding them a good situation.”
Dave says the ReEntry Team program offers the community a chance to work together for a greater cause and gives churches and other community organizations a chance to meet each other. However, the chance to help people in need is what truly draws him to the work.
“I had the opportunity to see a dad reunite with his kids for the first time since he’d gotten out,” Dave says. “If you can help someone like that and help them make it, it’s a great experience.”
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