Karen Underwood is no stranger to prison ministry. Before coming to South Carolina, she worked for a prison ministry in Phoenix and longed for a like-minded prison outreach program. After searching the internet, Karen came across JUMPSTART.
Though their mission was compelling, at first glance, she did not know if it was the place for her. Soon after this, Grace Church Greenville, SC hosted JUMPSTART to talk about their program, and at the end, the congregation was invited to join them in their mission as volunteers. This talk validated JUMPSTART’s authenticity and led Karen to sign-up with the ministry.
Starting at JUMPSTART as a volunteer in the South Carolina Department of Corrections at Leath with 65 women, Karen found her heart growing to love these women and recognize them as people who are just like her. After a couple of years of volunteer work, Karen was asked to come in and work as support staff a few days a week. Eventually, the days increased, and the role expanded.
She now serves JUMPSTART in the role of Transitional Program Director. This position entails many things but can be narrowed down to two main categories: case management and operations. From beginning to serve participants when they apply for the Outside Program until they graduate, Karen is works with these men and women to help them reach their potential. Karen does it all with a smile on her face and a heart full of passion.
To Karen, JUMPSTART means many things. She loves the idea of redemption – that one can serve their time and the Lord can come in and flip their life around, allowing one to live an authentic life again. Not only does she witness redemption every day, but she also gets to witness and feel love. Karen sees these individuals for their humanity and potential, not for the actions that led to their incarceration. Getting to see redeemed lives and people doing well at JUMPSTART is what means the most to Karen.
She wishes more in the community would recognize that the participants in the program are worthy of this redemption and love, saying, “I wish more people would see the people who come to us as people who have value. The Lord values them; they are precious and have worth.”