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The Foundation of HOPE Aids Incarcerated in Rejoining Society

Foundation of HOPE
Foundation of HOPE

The Foundation of HOPE is an interfaith nonprofit organization with a mission of empowering people impacted by the criminal justice system. Their programs are designed to renew faith, rebuild lives and restore positive relationships.

Rev. Dr. LaWana Butler
Rev. Dr. LaWana Butler

North Hills Monthly Magazine sat down with foundation executive director Rev. Dr. LaWana Butler to discuss the nonprofit’s mission, achievements and its impact on Allegheny County.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): What inspired the launch of the Foundation of Hope, and what are its core values?

Rev. Dr. LaWana Butler (Butler): Foundation of Hope launched 22 years ago out of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania’s (CASP) former chaplaincy program. Its members saw the need for pre-release and aftercare assistance and worked to develop and nurture the growth of HOPE into a pod within the Allegheny County Prison. FOH uses a combination of counseling, religious services, discipleship, practical resources and referrals and life skills education to mentor participants.

NHM: How do the aftercare and youth diversion services work?

Butler: The aftercare program focuses on helping anyone impacted by the criminal justice system within the last three years with the goal of successful reintegration into the community. We assist with IDs, clothing, rental assistance, housing and employment counseling and other case management services. Some of the people we help have come directly from our pod at the jail, while others are referred to us. We also accept walk-ins on Tuesdays and Thursdays at our offices.

The youth diversion program operates in schools in the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh Public. It gives juveniles who commit nonviolent, low-to-medium offenses the chance to remain in their communities while meeting their needs. School counselors can refer teens with truancy issues or other problems. Once approved for assistance, they receive anger management and behavioral support, employment assistance and life skills training.

Our weekly support group, Positive Initiative to Reinforce Change (PIRC), through our aftercare program provides a safe and welcoming space for reentrants to share and receive resources and support. They meet once a week for an hour to discuss issues and problems. We also just started one for the youth.

NHM: How does your chaplaincy program support the emotional and spiritual needs of incarcerated individuals?

Butler: Our main chaplaincy program serves the entire Allegheny County Jail, plus the 72-76 men and up to 46 women in our HOPE pod. We provide all faith religious services within the jail, including Sunday worship, Bible studies and other religious and spiritual practices.

NHM: How does your pre-release program prepare individuals for successful reentry?

Butler: We have a high success rate – 83% for those who complete the program and graduate. Most of the individuals who come to the HOPE pod in the jail want to be there. They participate in the classes willingly. They have homework assignments and other responsibilities. Not everyone is released from prison when they complete the program. It depends on their original sentence. It’s not guaranteed you’ll be released early because you’re in our pod.

NHM: How do you collaborate with correctional facilities and local law enforcement?

Butler: The foundation works closely with probation officers, magistrates, other law enforcement officials and the Allegheny County Jail. We have a HOPE pod, but the prison still has oversight. There have been times when we’ve not been able to hold classes because the jail doesn’t have enough staff to monitor the program. When the pandemic hit, we lost our HOPE pod, and everyone was moved to other pods. That made it difficult to do our program. We finally got our pod back in January this year.

NHM: What role do faith and spirituality play in your approach to rehabilitation and reentry?

Butler: Being interfaith, we try to make sure we embrace everybody’s faith and religion, even if you don’t have a foundation of faith. In jail, a lot of people rely on spirituality to get through their sentences. Outside of jail, we do not force religion or spirituality, but it is the foundation of our operational and belief system. Program participants are offered mentors or other spiritual services, and we’ll connect them with resources to meet those needs.

NHM: What are the biggest challenges or barriers you face to carrying out your mission?

Butler: Funding is a huge issue, followed by housing and employment for our participants. We rely heavily on foundations and grants, and those aren’t guaranteed. We’re constantly looking for new financial resources. Right now, we’re focused on building up a bank of individuals willing to give each year. Having that funding stream enables us to continue with our work. People interested in donating can do so from our website at

Housing is another barrier we face. People with drug or alcohol addiction can fall back into the same habits they were trying to avoid if they return to their communities after incarceration. At some point, we want to have housing connected to our HOPE program that participants can use post-release while receiving further skills training and finding a job. Then, we would help them find more permanent housing.

NHM: Besides donating, how can community members support your efforts?

Butler: We’re always looking for volunteers in the jail and outside the jail. Our chaplaincy program needs mentors and volunteers. Our pre-release program needs people to come in and teach some of the courses. We have 12-15 courses with curriculum, but need individuals to facilitate them. We train people for these roles and help them get the clearances they need to get inside the jail.

NHM: What are your future goals or plans for expanding your services?

Butler: The housing piece is the most critical. We also want to develop an on-the-job training program that includes contracts with organizations to do jobs like cleaning and landscaping to help some of our clients get work upon their release. We might even make this a requirement of our housing component if we ever get that going. It would strengthen their chances of success when reentering their communities.


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