First West Foundation has awarded the Abbotsford-based M2/W2 Association – Restorative Christian Ministries a grant for $20,025.
The grant is from the Envision Financial Community Endowment and will help fund the M2/W2’s community reintegration program No One Leaves Alone (NOLA).
The NOLA program connects people on parole with volunteer mentors, who provide support and mentorship.
“A mentor can offer insight, encouragement, or even a listening ear that might otherwise be difficult to access,” said Raymond Robyn, M2/W2 executive director. “We are very grateful for this grant.”
NOLA provides guidance in five key areas: housing, health, employment, education, and relationships. The program is available to parolees living in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
NOLA currently has 10 participants and over 24 active volunteers. Robyn said that with the support of the Envision Financial Community Endowment and other donors, M2/W2 plans to recruit more volunteers this year and support more people on parole.
Jacob (not his real name) is among the people for whom NOLA has made a big difference.
The former locomotive engineer at CN Rail was connected with NOLA after being released from prison. One of the NOLA volunteers, Rob, met Jacob while he was in prison, and continued to meet with him after his release.
As he adjusted to life in the community, Jacob began exploring employment opportunities. Part of him wanted to return to CN. He missed the thrill of operating a 190-tonne locomotive. Still, he knew returning to CN could lead him back to his old ways. Instead he began learning a new trade.
“We often met in White Rock, and would go down to Marine Drive and watch the trains. They represented a carefree life for Jacob,” Rob said.
For Jacob, the holidays are particularly difficult, and this past Christmas was especially tough. Rob saw that Jacob was having a tough time, so he painted a CN locomotive for him. He chose the GE AC4400CW, a model Jacob used to operate.
Jacob said he was deeply moved by the gift and comforted by Rob’s generosity during a difficult season.
“That somebody would take the time, it was very impactful,” he said. “Rob knew I was passionate about the railway because he listened to me.”
Jacob graduated from the NOLA program this past March. He is thankful for his new trade, the NOLA program, and the support he received from Rob.
“It was amazing to have people who are impartial, to have people to talk to,” Jacob said.
Based in Abbotsford, the M2/W2 Association has been providing mentorship to people in prison since the 1960s. The NOLA program is a more recent venture, launching first as a research project in 2018 before becoming a pilot program in April of this year.