FORGE offers young adults a chance to Rewind their lives

Date Published: 
Nov. 17, 2017

Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: Tara Barrett and Holland Lewis in the House of Mercy in Selbyville where the FORGE and REWIND programs are currently located.Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: Tara Barrett and Holland Lewis in the House of Mercy in Selbyville where the FORGE and REWIND programs are currently located.There are many reasons someone might want to “rewind” their life — to restart it, from a point where they feel they can be successful.

Prison. Drugs. Tough times. Any of those, and more, can derail a life.

Holland Lewis knows what it’s like to come out of prison and not know where to turn, what to do, who to trust. He also knows that it is possible to overcome one’s past, because he has done it.

About a year after finishing a three-year prison sentence and completing his parole period, Lewis is a new father, is engaged to be married and has found success as a chef.

Tara Barrett, co-founder of the FORGE Youth & Family Academy in Selbyville, saw that leadership potential in Lewis.

“He was smart enough to keep his nose clean while he was in prison,” she said. “His life could have been very different. He made one bad choice.”

As Barrett and Lewis explained, he was involved in a fight in which he was attempting to stand up for a friend and ended up sentenced to three years in state prison. Since his arrest, she said, “He has made lots of good choices.”

It started with a job at Arby’s in Berlin, Md., Lewis said, and he didn’t even have a car at the time.

“I rode my bike to my parole appointments,” he said.

Now a chef at Lighthouse Sound restaurant in Bishopville, Md., Lewis said he made a conscious decision to change the direction of his life, beginning with the people with whom he chose to surround himself.

“It’s easy,” he said, “to hang out with people who are doing what you were doing.”

Giving young people a group who will support them in making good choices, Barrett said, is the core of the FORGE philosophy. And a new program, called Rewind, takes that philosophy a step further, and Lewis, as its coordinator, is ready to share what he has learned with other young adults.

The program is designed to support young people ages 16 to 28 — and 16 was chosen as the lower end, Barrett said, “because 16 is when you can drop out of high school.”

Rewind is set up to provide direction for young adults who need it, who might not have had that support at home, or who need help navigating job and/or school requirements, for whatever reason.

Among the services the program will provide are recovery counseling, navigating the ins and outs of probation, finding training in a variety of trades, assistance with college applications and financial aid applications. Rewind will even provide participants with business attire if they need it.

Barrett said volunteers have already stepped up who are willing to provide basic skills training in fields such as carpentry, plumbing and metalwork.

The probation navigation piece is crucial, Barrett said, although she admitted, “A lot of people are like, ‘Well, what does that mean?’” At its most basic level, it means transportation to probation commitments and help with requesting courts to waive fines and fees. “Those are the two biggest things that cause people to violate probation. They can’t get there; they can’t pay their fines,” she said.

“Pretty much anything they would need to know to restart, to get back on their feet” will be provided at Rewind, Lewis said.

For those who have recently been released from prison, finding a job is often overwhelming, due to one simple question: Will a business hire a person with a criminal record?

“We’ve already started reaching out to some businesses to find out who will hire someone with a criminal record and who won’t,” Barrett said. Connections with local businesspeople who will need year-round help is important as well, she said.

Rewind is a crucial resource for ensuring success at a crucial point in recovery and re-entry into society, Barrett said.

“Especially with the addiction issue, our big concern is filling the gap between recovery and [being a] productive part of society,” she said.

“Eight, nine, 10 months in, they’ve been clean, they’re working, they’re getting by… Now what? At that point, people are like, ‘He’s fine; he’s good,’” Barrett said.

“And so they’re not getting the attention… It’s kind of like a funeral,” she continued. “When somebody dies, everybody says, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’” she explained. “And two weeks later, you have… nobody, and no clue how to cope with the situation that you find yourself in. And that’s sort of the gap we’re trying to fill… ‘OK, I’m clean, but now what do I do to be productive?’”

One way to help Rewind participants find their way back, she said, is having them work with the younger people in FORGE. That way, the young adults feel needed, and they often have a unique understanding of the high-risk youth in FORGE because they’ve been there themselves. The younger people, in turn, feel that the Rewind participants really understand them, and bonds are formed.

While both programs are being temporarily run out of the House of Mercy facility in Selbyville, plans are for that to change in the next few months.

“We have a lease right now on three buildings in Selbyville. We are waiting for some zoning issues to be resolved with the Town,” Barrett said. Hopes are that the programs will be in their new home “by June of next year at the latest,” she said.

Barrett noted that a recent grant from Next Generation/Delaware Community Foundation helped the program tremendously, and more and more volunteers and organizations have stepped up to help as word gets out about the work the FORGE program is doing.

“Everything just kind of fell into place when we needed it,” she said.

The fact that Lewis has stepped up to lead the Rewind program is another gift that Barrett said she feels will make the program successful in a way that she could not.

“The bad choice that he made was a choice that hundreds of kids, thousands of kids, have made. It could happen to anybody,” she said.

“He made one bad choice; he made lots of good choices. He did face, though, the scenario of, ‘I can’t get that job because I have a record, and I don’t have a license yet, and I don’t have any transportation…’” which only those who have been through it can truly understand, she said.

Lewis also understands the mindset that can develop in such a situation, when trying to restart one’s life can seem overwhelming and it seems easier to just give up.

“Once there’s nothing hanging over your head, what’s the motivation to continue?” he said.

Lewis recalled one interview, early in his post-prison life, at a new restaurant. He told the owner his story.

“I told him I was in the process of getting my GED. He said if I came back and could prove to him that I was getting into the school, I was hired. And I did. I came back with the book, the paperwork, everything… and got the job. I don’t even know if would have continued to get the GED if he wasn’t going to hire me because of it.”

He said he hopes Rewind will offer that kind of support, that kind of motivation. Barrett said she sees the connection between the younger members at FORGE and the new outreach to young adults.

Speaking of Rewind’s target group, she said, often, “They’d rather quit than try, because they don’t want to be judged, they don’t want to feel stupid. We see that with the [FORGE] kids that we deal with… ‘I don’t want to do that. It’s stupid.’

“It’s not that it’s stupid — it’s that they don’t know how to read. It’s not stupid — they don’t know how to do math. The same applies to the young adults, just on a different level.”

With FORGE, and now with Rewind, Barrett said, “If we can bring them into that atmosphere, where they’re allowed to screw up, they’re allowed to not get the job, and they’re still going to have a cheering squad, then that motivates them even more.”

Once they have the support of the groups, she said, participants are invested in being a part of something.

“It’s not just about ‘me,’ it’s about this whole new family over here that’s still cheering me on,” she said.

For more information on Rewind, call Holland Lewis at (443) 859-4712 and leave a message, or Rob Shrieves at (443) 366-2813, or email rewind@forgeyouth.org.