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Nearly 100 people, including 20 AHCC members, came together in Drew Hall on July 19 for “Breaking Bread to Foster Connections,” a program organized by the Welcome Back Team of Leadership Greater Hartford’s Third Age Initiative.

The older adults participating in the current Third Age Initiative class have focused on second chances for men and women released from prison. The Welcome Back Team, one of two teams in the class, wanted to address the stigma, isolation and disconnection resulting from incarceration. To help reach this goal, the team designed the “Breaking Bread” meals as a way to share success stories and information about available resources, as well as concerns and dreams for creating a more supportive community.

At the dinner, returning citizens, their families, service providers, and members of the community became acquainted at small dinner tables, with table leaders from a variety of backgrounds to help facilitate the conversation. Following dinner, a panel of four successful returning citizens, moderated by AHCC’s Rev. Mia Douglas, discussed their experiences in prison and after release, as they faced the challenges of re-entry into the community. The panelists gave advice for recently released returning citizens, including the importance of spirituality, learning to value yourself, and knowing your rights.

In evaluation forms, dinner attendees mentioned what they learned from the evening. Some of the points they raised were the resilience of the human spirit, the importance of mentors for returning citizens, the need to lobby for prison reform, the need for rehabilitation inside prison, and more services available after release. Some noted how much everyone has in common with returning citizens, and one attendee commented, “I am very lucky, as it would be easy to ‘fall off.’”

AHCC supported the dinner financially through a grant from the Laney-Colloton Fund. A second dinner supported by Immanuel Congregational Church was held there on August 21.

AHCC members Terry Douglas and Carolyn Dorais are members of the Welcome Back Team, which is looking for partners to continue the “Breaking Bread” meals. If you have ideas about how and where to hold the meals, please contact Carolyn at cedorais@comcast.net.