Volunteers stretch to help CROSSWAEH clients

Volunteers at CROSSWAEH play important roles. They not only provide activities and education for the clients at the community-based correctional facility, they also help successfully transition them back into the community.

One volunteer, Sister Paulette Schroeder, does just that during her weekly yoga classes at the women’s facility.

Schroeder, who has been involved with prison work for a long time, first began teaching yoga to the men at CROSSWAEH several years ago. About three years ago, she introduced the practice to the women’s facility.

“I wanted to bring something that they’d enjoy,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder, who has been practicing yoga for 16 years, said she believes in its holistic power, and she said she has seen those results in the women at the facility.

“It helps us whether we want it to or not,” she said. “Every time I encourage them to stand like a mountain, I think it does something to them.”

One woman who was going through a divorce found relief through the practice of yoga, Schroeder said, while others have told her it has helped with pain and promotes better sleep.

“This is one hour that they’re away from their stress,” she said. “And it’s one hour that makes them more open to accept themselves.”

Schroeder said many of the women at the facility also face the stress of being away from their children, and yoga has helped them deal with that separation.

“Many of these women are separated from their children and that is so hard for them,” she said. “Even though they’ve made mistakes, it doesn’t lessen the love for their children.”

Lisa Elliott, a client of CROSSWAEH who has been at the facility for three months, said she normally attends Schroeder’s yoga classes, unless she is out performing community service. Elliott had practiced yoga prior to attending Schroeder’s classes.

“I enjoyed it before. It’s a huge stress reliever and it helps me feel centered,” Elliott said.

Valerie Gates, another CROSSWAEH client and yoga student, said she previously practiced power yoga in prison.

“This is more relaxing,” she said of Schroeder’s classes.

“When you do yoga, everything leaves your mind,” added Kellie Foreman, also a student of Schroeder’s at CROSSWAEH. “It helps relax us. Even though we’re incarcerated, we still have a lot of stress.”

Elliott said during the classes, Schroeder is helpful and patient when the women have trouble with certain poses.

“She’s a huge sweetheart and she’s very patient and kind,” she said.

Just as the women are thankful for Schroeder, St. Francis is grateful for the volunteer work that CROSSWAEH clients provide. Schroeder said the men and women of CROSSWAEH often assist with gardening, pottery, heavy lifting and construction work at St. Francis.

“They come out to St. Francis a lot and help,” she said. “We could not do it without these guys as volunteers. We are so grateful for CROSSWAEH.”

Schroeder said she is a supporter of CROSSWAEH because of its success in rehabilitating its clients and introducing them back into the community.

“This is the best alternative to rehabilitation that I know,” she said. “Each stage gives them just a tiny bit more responsibility.”

Schroeder said in the near future, she would like to help introduce a volunteer-based music program at the facility. She said music, like yoga, would be a healing outlet for the clients.

Schroeder said she is looking for volunteers who could teach music once a week at the women’s facility.

“I think for a volunteer, it really helps break myths about people who are incarcerated, and it also helps us really get down to the bottom of our fears and our own stereotypes,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to be involved in our community in ways we probably haven’t been before.”