An estimated two-thirds of inmates released from jail or prison are arrested for a new crime within three years. Next Chapter Ministries focuses on reducing recidivism rates by helping inmates transform during their time in prison, after their release into the community and within their families and neighborhoods. The ministry addresses the spiritual needs of women, men, youth and families and works to change statistics—and life stories—for the better.
Kelly is a resident at Next Chapter Ministries’ Fellowship Home in Rochester. Her story is one of triumph over adversity. She is grateful to God for helping her overcome the struggles she faced for many years and for the opportunity to live a life much different from her past. The Fellowship Home is a safe and comfortable place that provides resources and assistance to help Kelly find work in the community, build life skills and grow in faith.
Kelly values the strong relationship she has with her mentor. Their time together includes visiting the farmers market, going on ice cream outings and spending time in conversation. Their bond is built on trust and a strong commitment to each other. “I can call her anytime,” says Kelly.
With the support of others and a safe, nurturing environment, Kelly, like other Next Chapter Ministries participants, is living a life of faith and renewal. “I wanted to build on my faith foundation. By staying in the Word, it keeps me strong,” she says. “(The Fellowship Home) feels like a home, and the staff really cares.”
Next Chapter Ministries, formerly Rochester Network for Re-Entry, was established in 2009, but its roots go back much further. Founder Andy Kilen, who is now retired, began coordinating weekly Bible studies at Olmsted County jail in 1991. Over the next several years, Rochester Network for Re-Entry and Network for Life worked together to provide additional fellowship opportunities and support for those impacted by crime and leaving jail or prison. Programs included weekly group meetings and classes for children. The purpose, which holds true today, was to strengthen the participants’ relationships with God and help them build new relationships with others.
In 2002, with the help of many generous donors, Rochester Network for Re-Entry established the first transitional home for adults to live after they were released from jail. The home provides a safe place where men can live for up to 12 months. Discipleship through teaching and modeling of scripture are at the heart of life in the home. In 2005, the Fellowship Home was established as a similar gathering place for women, followed by the purchase of a third home for additional residents the following year.
A UNIQUE, INTENSE PLACE
Rochester Network for Re-Entry’s services grew to include outreach to children and families in low-income housing, mentoring, community service and Bible studies in juvenile detention centers and the community—all with the goal of decreasing crime by helping people discover a relationship with God. When the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2009, it also celebrated a new name: Next Chapter Ministries.
“It’s not a halfway house or typical transitional home,” says Courtney Dugstad, office manager and youth program assistant. “Next Chapter Ministries is a unique place where individuals create and continue long-lasting relationships—one-on-one relationships—and learn how to live differently. Activities are coordinated for all ages,” she says. “It’s an intense place to live. Those who live here are participants, not recipients.”
“I have the privilege of seeing women grow in their faith in Christ and rebuild their lives again,” says Roxy Zenker, women’s program coordinator. Zenker understands firsthand what many of the participants have experienced. “It touches my heart to see each woman overcome struggles and barriers in their life.”
Activities like the Healing Hearts Program, which Kelly participates in, directly benefit women as they transition and rebuild personal relationships. With other opportunities that assist their families, transformation takes place two generations at a time. “Many women participants have children who also participate in the youth programs here,” says Zenker.
Next Chapter Ministries purchased a fourth home in 2010. The Lighthouse is a meeting place for children and youth, ages 5 through 18, who are impacted by crime. Bible studies for grades 9 through 12 take place in the upper space of the home, which is fondly referred to as the “Beacon” room.
Dugstad coordinates the teen ministry, which helps youth develop life skills through Bible studies, art projects, book clubs, sporting events, volunteer-provided family dinners, mentorships and more. “It’s an organic relationship process, with discussions about self-worth, pain, hurt, forgiveness, true love and true freedom,” she says. “Seeds that are planted will continue to grow, and there are so many branches.”
Similar to the ministry for adults, staff and volunteers visit the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) several times each week to lead small group Bible studies and engage in one-on-one mentoring. They welcome the participants into the Lighthouse youth program after release.
With a variety of life experiences and backgrounds to draw from, staff members at Next Chapter Ministries are focused, dedicated participants. Their common passion is the most important qualification for their work: a love for Jesus and others.
“I feel like God has called me to be a conduit of change, which includes a destiny moment here at Next Chapter Ministries,” says Executive Director Tierre Webster. “My life has been filled with many challenges and victories. The greatest victories include having a strong support network of family and friends and a spiritual transforming experience in 1998 with Jesus Christ. Therefore, I feel like my role at Next Chapter Ministries is more of fulfilling a call from God.”
SUPPORT THE VISION AND MISSION
“Next Chapter’s vision to change the culture of crime in Rochester and Olmsted County could never be of greater importance. Its role in helping men and women successfully re-enter the community is of great value, both to individuals and to society,” explains Senator Carla Nelson, who served on the board of directors for Rochester Network for Re-Entry/Next Chapter Ministries for two terms and now serves in an advisory role. “As our community grows, so must Next Chapter Ministries to meet the needs. This faith-based program has a long, successful track record of changing lives and is recognized across the state and nation.”
From cooking a meal, mentoring a participant or leading a discussion group to writing letters to inmates or making a monetary donation, the ministry invites you to help others—and yourself.
“I believe so much here is a win-win for everyone,” says Zenker. “Mentors and volunteers state that they, too, grow so much by being a part of someone else’s life. God coordinates everything we do here, and it is such a blessing to be a part of this community.”
TRANSFORMATION AND RESTORATION
“Our future looks great!” says Webster. “We will continue to play our role in our community, which includes building relationships with the right folks in an effort of working toward holistic wellness for all involved with Next Chapter Ministries—gospel transformation and restoration.”
With significant impact in the community, it’s evident that Next Chapter Ministries offers even more than a next chapter in life for those affected by crime or those who make this work possible. It provides guidance, resources and opportunities to begin new life stories.
Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.