Six Questions with JoAnne Carter of TAP Virginia CARES

Case Manager JoAnn Carter is a big part of our Virginia CARES program’s ability to nurture good habits and lasting changes. She sat down to answer some of our questions about the work, what keeps participants from losing hope, and how to make a lasting impact on someone’s life.

Q: Let’s start with the basics—who participates in the program, and what problem does Virginia CARES solve for its participants?

A: Virginia CARES participants are people who were incarcerated and are either about to get out or are within their first year of having been released.

Sometimes it’s people who have no family, or maybe they’re not getting along with their family. Our main job is getting them to where they’re self-sufficient and independent.

Many don’t have computer or even cell phone experience. They don’t have the skills and the training [to find good jobs], and that’s what we provide.

Q: So what are some of specific things the program can do to help people become independent when they have so many things to think about at once?

A: It all starts with the question, ‘How can I help this person?’ Well, certainly people need different things.

We can give them single and monthly bus passes to get to work, we can get them a cell phone or a cell phone card, work clothes. When rent’s a problem, sometimes we have security deposit or first month’s rent assistance, if they’re having a hard time getting that together.

We get participants together for a peer group to focus on real life issues, or we work one-on-one with them.

We do coaching and mock interviews to help them learn how to correctly complete applications, write a cover letter, create a résumé, apply online, and prepare for interviews. And when we do mock interviews, sometimes it’s one-on-one, and sometimes it’s a panel interview.

One of the biggest things, though, is connecting them to other resources.

Q: What kinds of other resources?

A: We refer out for substance use or mental health services and also to employer partners.

Q: What’s something a lot of people don’t know about, or don’t necessarily think about?

A: One thing the participants don’t always know about is the court costs. So we bring the clerk in from the courthouse to talk to the participants about those.

We also bring in folks from Freedom First to do budgeting classes, covering how to set up an account, how to budget for when things are due, and how to set goals. We have eight clients who have saved up to get cars, right now.

Q: How many clients do you work with?

A: We have 169 right now.

Q: What’s the most important part of your job?

A: I don’t want them to lose hope! The need is so great, and it pushes me to come to work every day. I love coming to work and I love my participants. The ultimate goal, though, is for them to push themselves.

Click here to find out more about our Virginia CARES program.