THE BLOG
11/23/2011 04:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

Incarcerated Men on Rikers Island Cook Thanksgiving Meals For the Hungry

This Thanksgiving through an extraordinary program, men on Rikers Island are giving back to the city by cooking turkeys and fixings for over 800 New Yorkers in need. This includes 400 elderly men and women who are home-bound. Participants of the Osborne Association's Fresh Start program that trains men incarcerated at Rikers Island in culinary arts, computer literacy and life skills - prepared 150 turkeys at a Rikers Island kitchen on Tuesday. And under supervision of the city's Department of Correction (DOC), four of the men were actually able to deliver the meals to two Upper East Side churches on Wednesday before the big feast. The two churches, Church of the Heavenly Rest at 2 E. 90th St. and Church of the Holy Trinity at 316 E. 88th St., will then serve and deliver the meals with help from parishioners and other volunteers.

At Church of the Holy Trinity staff and volunteers have been preparing and delivering Thanksgiving meals to home-bound seniors for over 35 years. But since their involvement with Osborne's Fresh Start program began last year, a load has been lifted. "It's just been a huge savings in labor, volunteer time, and energy," shared Rev. Michael A. Phillips about the help from the men at Rikers Island. "It's transformed the way we run this program," added Rev. R.C. Laird. "We're thrilled to be able to work with Fresh Start and what the program stands for." Last year the church's staff and volunteers delivered meals to 350 seniors who had "someone nice there to say 'happy Thanksgiving.'" For some, that volunteer may be the only person they will see on Thanksgiving Day. This year, 400 people will be served.

The Fresh Start program is operated by Osborne staff at Rikers Island with support from DOC, and is the longest continually operating jail re-entry program on the island. The Osborne Association designed Fresh Start as a holistic approach to re-entry that focuses on the family as a key ingredient of long-term success. Incarcerated men receive training and guidance - not just in culinary arts - but in several areas like parenting, goal setting, and relapse prevention that help motivate participants to positively reconnect with their families and the community when they return home. The men also receive follow-up support for a full year following their release from jail.

"Osborne really took away all the excuses to do wrong out there," said Mark Braxton, who also reconnected with his son with help from the Osborne Association. Another participant, Nathaniel Harris, also shared while he was in the program last year, "The program means a lot to me. They open their hearts to us and everybody puts 100 percent into you." Graduates of Fresh Start have leveraged their new skill set and personal growth to become prep cooks, catering assistants, and counselors at substance abuse programs. These opportunities lessen the feelings of hopelessness that frequently arise once individuals return home from prison or jail.

Founded in 1931, the Osborne Association extends a continuum of services to over 6,500 currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families each year. Services include substance abuse treatment, parenting and relationship workshops for men and women inside prisons, career training in the green jobs sector, and support services for family members and children, among many others. As the oldest and most experienced organization in New York State serving men and women involved with the criminal justice system, the Osborne Association operates at several sites throughout the state, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Rikers Island, and in five state prisons. These programs benefit New York City and communities all over the state by helping individuals transcend the cycle of incarceration and live more stable and happy lives, thereby reducing the pain and economic costs that crime incurs.

To find out more about the Osborn Association's Fresh Start program please visit their website

Incarcerated Men on Rikers Island Cook Thanksgiving Meals For the Hungry