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Nonprofit Riverside helps those who were homeless or incarcerated regain their independence – Press Enterprise

Starting Over Inc. provides transition and reintegration services to people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. The organization provides housing, employment, family reunification, recovery and mental health services.

Start Over housing services are available for those in need, including clients who are homeless, recently released from prison, or struggling with substance abuse. The organization has eight halfway houses in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. Transition houses provide sober living and harm reduction options. David’s House, located in Eastvale, is available for single women with children.

“We tap into the potential of people who may not have had the opportunity to succeed or give back,” said co-founder and executive director Vonya Quarles. “We offer people opportunities to give themselves, to learn and to grow.”

The organization believes that everyone is of equal value and helps clients who need help dealing with the immediate effects and root causes of homelessness. Case management specialists who have direct experience on the journey provide referrals and support to those in need. This includes immediate basic needs, obtaining health benefits, essential documents, employment, advocacy and family reunification.

By investing in prevention and addressing trauma, Starting Over believes the community will not need to invest in eliminating re-entry into the criminal justice system. Clients of the organization’s programs have gone on to form their own organizations, become advocates, work in health, and are present in the lives of their children.

Bobbie Butts, Associate Director of Family Reunification of Starting Over Inc, speaks at the Family Reunification, Equity and Empowerment (FREE) program rally in the state capitol to transform protective services in childhood. (Courtesy of Start Over, Inc.)

Community organizing and civic engagement are also a big part of Starting Over’s work. The organization has worked to elevate the voices of leaders affected by the system and build the pipeline of leaders who organize and build grassroots in the community. The organization’s Family Reunification, Equity and Empowerment (FREE) program supports families who are dealing with dependent child courts and the child welfare system. The program offers legal support, strategies for advocating for family reunification, and free resources.

On January 18, 2022, FREE held a rally in Sacramento at the State Capitol to Transform Child Protective Services. Working with CPS and other partners, Start Over helped pass SB 354 and is working to publicize the revisions it puts in place. The bill relaxes restrictions on placing children with relatives. There are 60,000 children languishing in foster care because parents are deemed ineligible for placement, Quarles said.

“I’ve met many parents who weren’t able to have the kids because of old, unrelated convictions,” Quarles said. “SB 354 opens the door to an individualized assessment to make a decision. Data shows that children placed with family members are much better off.

Recently, Starting Over received a grant from the IE Black Equity Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. Start Over has grown from an all-volunteer organization to 21 staff members and welcomes contributions to support its work.

Currently, the organization relies on the help of 40 volunteers and is always looking for more. Those interested in volunteering can contact Ashley Williams, internship program manager and housing program manager for the organization.

Start Over tries to match volunteers with work that builds on their strengths. Opportunities include policy and advocacy work, writing grant applications and working with housing guests. There is also a need for fresh grocery donations for the bi-monthly Starting Over food drives. Donations of gently used clothing and accessories are also welcome and provided free of charge to accommodation hosts and the community.

“Opportunity is what we offer,” Quarles said. “Yes, we help provide direct services, but more broadly, we give people the time and space to reset and rethink their future.”

More information: https://www.startingoverinc.org or 951-898-0862

Inland Empire Community Foundation strives to strengthen the Southern California interior through philanthropy.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.