Valenda Black's Journey with JUMPSTART at Allendale Correctional Institution
My most Cherished Day
The sound of heavy metal doors clanging behind me is a testament to God's goodness and grace every Monday. A puzzling statement, you may think. Monday is my cherished day—the day I've pledged to assist incarcerated men in discovering their purpose at Allendale Correctional Institution (ACI). Excitement fills me as I step in, representing JUMPSTART SC (JUMPSTART), a program centered around a 40-week curriculum inspired by Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life."
Overview of the Inside Program
Beyond the "Purpose Driven Life" itself, participants use a workbook to reflect on each spiritual discipline, and naturally, the Holy Bible stands as the foundational text. I am often asked why I am excited about going to prison. I respond that there is no riper field to share God's love, redemption, forgiveness, and goodness than at this place. Each week, the men in JUMPSTART at ACI share with the entire group of participants their perspective of the week's chapter in Purpose Driven Life and their answers to questions in their workbooks, also referred to as their life books. Scriptures accompany each of the 40 chapters and are integral to the men growing in Christ. Many have asked if I am afraid to go to a prison where men have been convicted of all sorts of crimes. Why should I be afraid? I know I am doing what God would have me do. I know the men we visit weekly (usually around 65) are very protective of volunteers. I feel I am fulfilling a purpose in my life to help these men whom many shun and say there is no hope for to come to know Jesus.
My story of how I became a volunteer with JUMPSTART at Allendale Correctional Institution is an example of how God works through so many avenues and paths to take us places we never dreamed of going. The year was 2016. Then, Animal Advocates of Barnwell were allowed to bring cats and dogs to the prison to live in dorms with carefully selected men. I was involved with Animal Advocates through my grandson, Nicholas, who had volunteered with that program. At that time, Vikki Scott, president and CEO of Animal Advocates of Barnwell, was director of the MeowMate/MuttMate program at Allendale Correctional Institution. While at the center with Nicholas, she and I would talk about the MeowMate/MuteMate program at ACI, the good it was doing for the men, and how helpful it was for them to have a cat or dog to care for and love. One day, Vikki called me and asked if I would be interested in attending ACI, that volunteers were needed to help with the JUMPSTART program.
I told Vikki I had little time because of my husband's illness and other family obligations. The best I could do was visit once a month to help with the class. Little did I know I would be hooked. That call changed my life in so many ways. After that first volunteer experience, I was ready to return to ACI every Monday. ever have I been so welcomed and appreciated as when I walked into the JUMPSTART class. They wanted to change their lives, become better men, and learn how to be productive citizens outside prison walls. These men were so hungry to talk to someone from the outside about their families, prayer requests, and praises.
JUMPSTART participants go to classes inside their dorms at ACI each week, studying and preparing for the Monday meeting, where all men in the program from each dorm come together with JUMPSTART leaders and volunteers. Dorm leaders and volunteers facilitate the Monday classes on rotation, with participants sharing their perspectives on that week's curriculum discipline.
How to Get Involved
How does someone become a volunteer with JUMPSTART? First, they must complete an application required by the SC Department of Corrections and receive training from the prison chaplain. This application covers the rules and regulations needed for volunteers to enter any prison to volunteer with any program volunteers with JUMPSTART must also complete a six-week training program with inside JUMPSTART leaders before volunteering. This training fosters unity between volunteers and leaders, building a solid connection with participants. The training aims to shape individuals into disciples, living by Christ's teachings, whether inside the prison or returning to society after their release. JUMPSTART and its programs aim to help incarcerated men and women find their unique life purpose. I have found my life's purpose that I cannot put into words or even describe what it feels like to see prison inmates' lives transformed to live with a purpose.
JUMPSTART SC needs Volunteers
JUMPSTART at Allendale Correctional Institution needs volunteers! As of 2023, the JUMPSTART class comprises five dedicated volunteers assisting ten inside leaders, benefitting around 60 class members. More volunteers would create more one-on-one interactions with participants, facilitating deeper connections through listening, encouragement, witnessing, and sharing the essence of God's love. If you're interested in volunteering or need more information about the JUMPSTART program at Allendale Correctional Institution, please reach out at 803-541-5921. Additionally, I can coordinate with JUMPSTART graduates currently affiliated with the program in Spartanburg, SC. They can visit churches, share their transformative experiences, and discuss post-release opportunities offered by JUMPSTART.
Valenda Black, Inside Program Volunteer