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Jennifer Leahy: Helping the formerly incarcerated through Project Rebound

Jennifer Leahy, director of Project Rebound at Fresno State, assists alumni in navigating higher education.

She understands the system on a personal level, because almost 30 years ago, Leahy was arrested at the age of 21.

Leahy was jailed for 17 years and returned home at 38 with a high school diploma and no plan.

“I had no idea what to do with myself… And I could not find a job. Nobody wanted to hire me. “Two decades without a work history, a high school diploma and really no ability to provide or confront,” he said.

Leahy returned to school, earning her bachelor’s degree and later her master’s degree in criminology.

He has been working on Project Rebound since December 2016 and said it is an opportunity to help those who faced similar challenges he encountered during the training.

“You will combine your own personal shame about your past with the stigma of being a convicted criminal and the reaction you get from people when they find out you are convicted. “And you just isolate yourself and withdraw,” he said.

As a student, there were times when Leahy did not use campus resources because of this sense of isolation.

Leahy recalled a spot where she had difficulty choosing to go home to Oakhurst for $ 5 petrol or buy food and sleep in her car.

“It affected my ability to be the student I could be and… these are the things that draw me to this job. “It’s because the potential these people have is amazing,” he said.

Through Project Rebound, Leahy hopes to break the cycle of imprisonment she saw during her imprisonment.

“I, like everyone else in this program, have a really strong desire to make amends. It’s not something you can ever do. “I mean, you can never do enough to make up for the damage you did to your life, but you feel you should at least try,” Leahy said.

Jennifer Leahy (left) and Arnold Trevino (right) deliver care packages to Project Rebound students in May 2020 during the early stages of COVID-19. (Courtesy of Project Rebound)

Leahy said the community built on Project Rebound is like a family, made for those who are no longer part of the “criminal lifestyle” in which they participated, but who also have the stigma of a former prisoner.

“People can not prevent the reaction of their fear and you never feel like you are fit anywhere,” Leahy said. “You know, we refer to it as a family because we have created a community.”

This task is challenging and Leahy said it is a unique situation that helps every student who walks through the doors of her office.

Leahy is working with Project Rebound Approach Coordinator Arnold Trevino, an effort that he says goes far beyond a 9 on 5 job.

“This is a program 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said.

Each student he works with has his own phone number. Leahy said they could call her whenever they needed help.

Emma Hughes, founder of Fresno State’s Project Rebound program, attributed Leahy’s commitment both inside and outside the office to telling students she cares about their success.

“Students feel it [know] “How deeply he cares and how important he considers the program to be and how important it is to execute the program very effectively,” Hughes said.

Hughes said Leahy’s job as program director can be determined by her passion and commitment to her job.

“It’s a very demanding position, and it goes beyond every day to offer the best for our students and Project Rebound,” Hughes said. “She really does it as a job of her life.”

There are currently 58 students in the program in Fresno State, with 19 students graduating this spring.

Steven Hensley, who graduated this spring with a dual degree in philosophy, privilege and political science, credits Leahy for her work helping Project Rebound students succeed.

“She is kind, dedicated and selfless. “He wrote a fantastic letter of recommendation that helped me get accepted to the University of California Summer Institute for Emerging Directors and Leaders,” Hensley said. “Project Rebound would not be the same without Jennifer.”

Project Rebound volunteered at Habitat for Humanity in April 2017. This event was a joint effort between Project Rebound at Fresno State and several Fresno City College students. (Courtesy of Project Rebound)

For Leahy, graduation is the most rewarding part of her job.

“I’m watching all the graduations… Oh my God, I’ve invested so much in these students. “You just do not believe it,” he said.

“This program, in a word, is hope. It is hope for a different future. It is hope for a different life. It is a hope for a better community. “It’s a hope for the next generation,” Leahy said. “It is a hope for people who are in the worst moments of their lives to have a path. “Yes, this program has to do with hope.”

Jennifer Leahy: Helping the formerly incarcerated through Project Rebound Source link Jennifer Leahy: Helping the formerly incarcerated through Project Rebound

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