Hometown Hero Reclaiming Lives Lost to Crime Realtor® helps incarcerated women bounce back.
The saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” means if you want something badly enough, you can find the wherewithal to get it. That’s what Williemae Stanberry, broker-owner of Stanberry Realty in Pensacola, had in mind when she founded the nonprofit organization A Will & Way Inc. four years ago.
It was at the suggestion of her husband, a chaplain at a local correctional facility, that Stanberry got involved with helping incarcerated women turn their lives around. She had found it difficult to break free from an abusive relationship many years before, and when she talked with women at the jail each Saturday, she was flooded with painful memories of her own struggle.
“I was fearful at first, but once I got the courage to go in and meet the ladies I found that a lot of them had professions and children but had fallen on hard times like some of us have,” says Stanberry. “I fell in love with [going there each week]. I’d rather be there than anywhere; it’s a calling.”
Determined to help the women rebound, Stanberry recruited a group of professional women and started teaching classes on self-empowerment, accountability and anger management, and offering group therapy and individual counseling to the 300 female inmates.
Upon release from incarceration, many women find themselves broke, homeless and desperate. Sometimes their children have been placed with other family members or in foster care or are living on the street. Survival is a daily struggle and, with nowhere to turn, these women often relapse into their old ways: taking and dealing drugs, stealing, prostitution and committing other crimes. Within weeks they’re typically back in jail or have fallen victim to a worse fate.
A Will & Way has partnered with other organizations to effect positive change in the lives of these women by offering them Christian-based instruction, transitional housing for up to six months at the Grace Home facility (up to six women live there at a time), and educational and employment assistance. Residents of Grace House also undergo drug rehabilitation, if needed, and psychological counseling. “We work with other organizations that have professionals in those fields, and we transport them to those meetings twice a week,” adds Stanberry.
The organization’s Woman-to-Woman program is a six-week course taught in the county jail to women who are transitioning into society or who will go on to prison to complete their sentence. The program deals with issues that are relevant to each woman’s current situation (low self-esteem, guilt, shame, anger, accountability, loneliness, and so forth).
“It gives me a tremendous sense of joy and peace to be able to help these ladies,” says Stanberry. “By helping them, we’re helping the whole family because when they’re whole again they will be able to restore their families and build fruitful relationships.”
But make no mistake about it: although Stanberry has a soft heart, she’s not afraid to enforce strict rules. All of the women who participate in her programs must adhere to a life of sobriety and integrity.