Over the ensuing years, the scope of services provided by Changed Choices broadened considerably. Some of the women who were sentenced to federal and state prisons continued to desire the mentoring, encouragement and support they had received in the county jail. That resulted in a pen pal program, an optional correspondence Bible Study, a book club, regular correspondence from Changed Choices staff and provision for some physical needs. It was evident that the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the "clients" had to be addressed in a comprehensive but individually supportive manner.
The time came when the women with whom Changed Choices was working would be released and a new dimension of the organization began. Changed Choices' role expanded to assist in this transition period by providing the tools the women needed for success.
With the filing of the articles of incorporation on January 21, 2005, Changed Choices Inc. became an independent and incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, directed by a strong Board of Directors.
The unique approach that allows Changed Choices to follow its clients through the judicial system from the beginning of incarceration through years of reentry has proven to be very effective. That program, the core program of Changed Choices, became known as CARE (Comprehensive Approach to Reentry Effectiveness). A mentoring program for the female youthful offenders at the Mecklenburg County Jail began in 2009. COOOL (Changing Our Outlook On Life), further met the mission of Changed Choices to provide services for women in Mecklenburg County. Since 2011, Changed Choices has provided evidence-based programming for women at the Mecklenburg County jail through a contract with the Sheriff's Office.
The addition of other programs and partnerships in the community has made Changed Choices a leader in dealing with female inmates and a model for other organizations. Today, the very low recidivism rate continues to speak clearly to the effectiveness of the program. Our staff has grown, but we continue to rely on our strong volunteer base to carry out our mission.
In his role as a police chaplain in Mecklenburg County, Rev. Daren McGrew realized the need that women in the judicial system have for ongoing spiritual advice and support. In 1999, he asked Ruth Snyder to go to the jail to visit two young women whom he had met while riding with a police officer. After visiting the jail regularly for several months, Ruth became convinced that the women she met there needed ongoing support. She saw that they were broken, afraid and felt very much alone.
As a chaplain intern at the Mecklenburg County Jail, Ruth found the needs specific to incarcerated women to be unique. She and others she recruited began to teach, mentor and encourage an increasing number of women on a spiritual and emotional level. When the women left the jail to go to prison, the personal contact with them continued through mail and phone calls.
Many women had issues from their past that were holding them hostage to a life that they themselves did not want. Within a year, the structured and consistent approach that Ruth and her volunteers developed was named "Changed Choices." Changed Choices had developed a philosophy and approach, which proved successful in assisting female inmates. It operated under the umbrella of Grace Covenant Church and its pastor, Rev. Daren McGrew.
Executive Director - Karen Kovach
As Executive Director, Karen works to provide organizational structure, vision and strategic planning for Changed Choices. She is also responsible for making connections and seeking funding through grant writing and other fundraising efforts.
Assistant Director - Challise Cantleberry
As Assistant Director, Challise coordinates our programs and counseling at the Mecklenburg County Jail.
Melissa assists with client job placement in addition to teaching motivational classes for female inmates at the Mecklenburg County Jail. She also serves as Vice-Chair of Reentry Partners of Mecklenburg.
Home Manager - Nicole Thompson
Nicole is the resident manager of our six-bed transitional home. In that role, she mentors many women who are newly released from prison.
Inmate Services Manager - Stephanie Vander Lugt
Building new lives
beyond prison walls.
"We work together to ensure that these deserving women are given the opportunities they need... we will see destructive cycles broken while lives and futures are changed!"