Mentorship program empowers women to successfully rebuild their lives



Vermont women who wish to make a lasting impact in the lives of other women are invited to become a mentor in the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program, a restorative reintegration project at Mercy Connections. In collaboration with the Department of Corrections and other community partners, the program pairs trained female volunteers with women who are in prison, under community supervision or participating in rehabilitation services.

“The program is pretty straightforward,” said Joanne Nelson, director of justice and mentoring programs for Mercy Connections. “Mentors go through an extensive training process. They are then carefully matched with a woman looking for a mentor. They meet approximately once a month and are also encouraged to attend several events planned by Mercy Connections throughout the year.

Since 1985, Vermont’s population has grown 35 percent while its prison population has increased 300 percent. During the same period, the female prison population in Vermont increased tenfold. Each year, more than 1,400 women roam the South Burlington Women’s Correctional Facility. According to the VT Department of Corrections, more than 50% of women released in Vermont return to prison for a new crime in their first year after incarceration.

These alarming trends demonstrate the urgent need for successful interventions to help women complete programs as alternatives to incarceration as well as to help them re-enter the community and not reoffend. The Vermont Women’s Mentorship Program has a proven track record in helping women successfully restore their lives after incarceration. The support of a mentor promotes a systemic and permanent change in the rate of incarcerated women by reducing the risky behaviors associated with recidivism.

Mentors come from all walks of life and are encouraged to commit for at least one year. They support, mentor and act as healthy new companions for traumatized women facing a myriad of challenges including addiction, mental illness, job loss and housing issues.

Mercy Connections offers a 5-week training program – Wednesdays September 15, 22, 29 and October 6 and 13 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – and ongoing support, including mentor support group meetings, training on issues that affect the reintegration process and healthy social events. The female couples are carefully matched for a successful experience. Women interested in the training do not need to have prior knowledge of the criminal justice system or mentoring experience to participate.

For more information, please contact Joanne Nelson, Director of Justice and Mentoring Programs, at [email protected] or (802) 846-7164, or visit:

Mercy Connections, founded in 2001, is a values-driven organization that empowers people to make meaningful changes in their lives through education, mentorship, entrepreneurship training and an inclusive community.

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