SOUTH HOLLAND | Kenneth Morgan hopes to start a business fixing and selling cars, but he wasn't quite sure where to begin and knew it wouldn't be simple, as an ex-offender and parolee.
The Calumet Park resident found help at the Illinois Department of Corrections' Summit of Hope on Thursday in the South Suburban College field house.
"This ... really means a lot and it should happen more," Morgan said. "More people like me need to know more about this type of stuff."
Parolees were registered at the entrance to the field house, assigned a volunteer and walked through booths for about 80 vendors, charities, colleges, health care officials, religious groups, job service agencies, banks and government agencies. They were given help with everything from obtaining a driver's license and opening a checking account to registering for college, learning about job training and signing up for health insurance.
The goal is to help reduce recidivism — the rate at which offenders return to prison — in the state.
"When you see the first couple (parolees) come in who don't know what to expect, watch them," said Marcus King, an IDOC community outreach administrator. "Watch what happens when they realize they can have a driver's license. Watch when they get to the end and they get these services. Watch what happens when they eat for free. Watch the look on their face."
The IDOC has hosted about 22 summits statewide each year since 2010, King said. It began as a way to help parolees in southern Illinois to find several resources in one place.
"A parolee in southern Illinois can go almost an hour one way (traveling) for a food bank and go another hour for housing," said Michael Gaines, of the Illinois Department of Public Health. "In southern Illinois, we were reaching about 150, sometimes 175 parolees. When we moved up to central Illinois and near Chicago, we're talking about 1,500 or more individuals."
The program was named by an anonymous ex-offender who wrote on an evaluation card, "Please continue to give us hope."
Volunteers come mostly from local groups or Thornton Township. Brandon Tolbert, of Dolton, and Derek Packard, of Riverdale, were in South Holland Thursday to help.
"I enjoyed doing this last year and I think it really helps people," said Tolbert, in his second year volunteering. "A lot of people don't know about this type of information when they get out of jail, and it's good to at least get them situated back into the world."
"They've made mistakes, but they're trying to make good," Packard said. "In helping them, you help yourself, as well."