Giving back: Connections for Life

Connections for Life program manager Cortney Bradley, executive director Karen Stagg, and program member Judy Maechling stand in the colorful racks of the organization's thrift store. Photos by Riley Bienvenu.

Incarcerated and desperate for a new beginning, Cortney Bradley could never have anticipated the success that would follow her interview with a Connections for Life coordinator in 2012. After years trapped in a destructive cycle of substance abuse, Bradley decided she needed a change. Upon hearing about the strict but supportive transition program offered through Connections for Life, Bradley knew this was her chance to regain control of her life.

“I grew up in a dysfunctional household,” says Bradley of her childhood spent with a mother in and out of prison. “I didn’t have positive influences, and I kept going back because it was all I knew. I wanted to get out, and when I heard about the structure provided through the program, I realized what I needed to get back on track was rules.”

And while the program requires adherence to a lengthy list of guidelines, including job placement, meetings, support groups and more, this structure allows for lasting transformations by not only planting the seeds for success, but cultivating them into blossoming reality.

“We are engaged in the everyday lives of the women we serve,” explains Karen Stagg, who has served as executive director of the organization for the last 10 years. “We supply them housing, transportation and basically everything they need to get started in their new lives, but they are the ones who do the hard work. I have so much respect for them because it’s easy to go back to their old ways. It’s much harder to stick to the rules of the program and turn their lives around.”

Each year, Stagg and her team travel around Louisiana to get to know the hundreds of women, just like Bradley, who are eager to move forward with a group that judges not based on past indiscretions but rather on the drive to succeed in the future. The Connections for Life program has become well-known across prisons and other rehabilitation centers across the state due to the surprising lack of similar organizations. Since 2000, the organization has worked to provide a more holistic service for the women whose lives they are working to reshape. While Connections for Life does collaborate with other programs, it is one of the few that approaches all areas of the reformation process, rather than specializing in just one.

“When I first got here, I was amazed,” explains Bradley. “I walked into a fully stocked apartment with everything I could possibly need, but I was standoffish because I had nothing to give Karen, or anyone on the team, in return. As time went on, I learned to trust Karen and saw that she really wanted me to succeed.”

Now sober, employed and starting a family of her own, Bradley is dedicating her life to helping women in similar situations. Working with Connections for Life as a program manager, Bradley helps to facilitate the many success stories that resemble her own.

However, Stagg notes that these victorious transformations would not be possible without the funding provided through the Connections for Life thrift store on Highland Road, which serves as not only a moneymaking venture, but also as a face for the mission within the community.

“The thrift store was part of the program when it first began 17 years ago,” explains Stagg. “It continues to be a major source of funding that allows the community to engage with our cause in a meaningful way.”

The mission of Connections for Life fills a void in the cluttered philanthropic atmosphere by ministering to women who are often overlooked despite their need for assistance. Stagg and her team want people to understand that through helping these women successfully re-enter society, the lives of the women are not the only ones affected. Rather, by working to create productive members of society, the program creates a positive influence on this generation, as well as future generations, by working to end the destructive cycle that keeps women and their children caught in crime.

The Connections for Life thrift store is located at 2286 Highland Rd. For more information on volunteer and donor opportunities, see connectionsforlife.net.

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