Citizen Circle hopes to help offenders in community

For five years, the Citizen Circle of Seneca County has been helping offenders transition into the community and be productive citizens.

The Rev. Jeannie Weber, who started a Citizen Circle 10 years ago in Fremont and then introduced the program in Seneca County five years ago, said the groups meet once a month. Circles consist of offenders, ex-offenders and citizens.

“We give (offenders) goals and point them in the right direction,” Weber said.

The Citizen Circle program is an outreach of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and focuses on eight domains, including employment, education, family/marital, associates/social interactions, substance abuse, community functioning, personal/emotional orientation and attitude.

“A lot of them, when they get out of jail or prison, that label is one that is going to follow them for the rest of their life,” Weber said. “They’re just people, they made mistakes. They need a second chance and we give them the opportunity to have a second chance.”

Weber said upon release, many offenders are overwhelmed and do not know where to begin in finding a job, housing or food. Re-connecting with family also can be difficult, she said.

“When they went in, life stopped, but the world on the outside went on,” Weber said.

Members of Citizen Circles will talk to the offenders, find their strengths and connect them with the right resources, she said.

“We put them in touch with other organizations that might be able to help them,” Weber said.

Sister Maureen Studer, who is a member of the Citizen Circle of Seneca County, said she’s been active since its introduction.

“It’s basically to help people who were incarcerated to get back into communities,” she said. “It’s not an easy job for anybody who’s been incarcerated to get back into the world.”

She said at the meetings, offenders talk about themselves and the rest of the members will then point out strengths and help them develop goals.

“A lot of times in their opportunity to say something about themselves, they say they want more education or want more training for something,” Studer said.

Studer said membership of Seneca County’s circle is dwindled since its introduction, and she would like to see the group grow. Studer said it’s especially helpful when offenders return to the meetings to let members see how they are doing.

“One of our opportunities is to have people come back who’ve been back in the community for a while,” she said.

The next Citizen Circle meeting is at 6 p.m. Feb. 6. at Tiffin-Seneca United Way, 201 S. Washington St. The circle meets the first Thursday of every month.