Gemeinschaft Home is an innovative nonprofit organization serving the community through residential and non-residential programs. The Gemeinschaft Home is located just outside the city limits of Harrisonburg in a large, renovated farmhouse. Such a semi-country environment provides residents an opportunity to restore a sense of wholeness to their lives while being supported by quality food, shelter, counseling, and job coaching while they experience a model for living responsibly on a daily basis.
Organized in June of 1985, Gemeinschaft Home began as a residential, transitional facility for individuals who have been released from incarceration and have a probation obligation with the Virginia Department of Corrections. Gemeinschaft Home collaborates closely with local court services, attorneys, and probation officers as well as re-entry specialists and counselors working inside the prison system to ensure that each resident who enrolls in the program has the vital resources and support to return to normal living conditions after their incarceration.
At present there are over 2.2 million men and women incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States of America. In the state of Virginia, the average daily population in the state’s correctional institutions was 29,333 as of January 2020. Notably, the probation and parole load at the same time in Virginia was 69,651.
In the state of Virginia, over 200,000 men are released from state prisons each year. During the same year, 2020, some 53,037 women will be released from jails and prisons in the state. Just how do we deal with each one of these human beings.
Originally the house had a capacity of 17. The capacity was increased to 22 following remodeling in 1993. In 1996, Gemeinschaft built an addition to the main house, which allowed the capacity to increase to 41 residents plus one emergency bed. This capacity has now risen to 44 beds for residents.
Residents arrive at Gemeinschaft Home with little or no money and need significant support during their initial days following release. In addition to full-time room and board for a minimum of 90 days, the Gemeinschaft program involves mandatory counseling while residents are required to actively seek and/or maintain employment while in residence. All residents are obligated to participate in daily chores and maintenance of communal living spaces and to observe all house rules, particularly curfew and abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
The residents of Gemeinschaft have demonstrated a strong motivation to better themselves and rebuild their lives. As fellow human beings, we would be well-served to paraphrase a time-tested Boy’s Town [Nebraska] mantra which suggests we might never stand so tall as when we bend to lift another human being. That’s both our opportunity and our obligation — to help others in any way we can.
Currently, Gemeinschaft Home has a staff of 18, including a program manager, a residence life coordinator [who serves as a case manager], a facilities manager, a food manager, shift supervisors, and other paid staff. In addition, there are a number of volunteers from the local community who serve in various roles, including interns, mentors, and drivers. Regular volunteers offer such courses and workshops in areas ranging from creative writing to financial management.
Gemeinschaft Home is an experiment. It is an experiment that works. It is an experiment that works because people help. People help by serving as interns, on-site volunteers, tutors, providing office and clerical help or a number of other volunteer jobs. People help by providing donations — both large and small, one time, monthly or annually.
John D. Stone, PhD, is professor emeritus at James Madison University and lives in Harrisonburg.