Bak­ing pro­gram to give former in­mates fresh start

The Times-Tribune - - LIFE & TIMES - BY BROGAN SCOTCH staff writer

The break­ing of bread in the Chris­tian tra­di­tion has long rep­re­sented fel­low­ship, friend­ship and love shared among fam­ily and friends.

The Rev. Re­becca A. Barnes and St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Church, Scran­ton, are mak­ing that more than sym­bolic through a new pro­gram to help peo­ple in Lack­awanna County fac­ing an up­hill jour­ney.

When Barnes took over as priest-in-charge at St. Luke’s, 232 Wy­oming Ave., on Thanks­giv­ing 2015, it did not take her long to try to get in­volved with com­mu­nity out­reach.

“When they were look­ing for a new priest, the parish was con­sid­er­ing us­ing unuti­lized space up­stairs as a hous­ing fa­cil­ity for women re-en­ter­ing so­ci­ety from prison,” Barnes said. “We con­tin­ued to hang on to that vi­sion of es­tab­lish­ing a 501(c)(3) non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion through Cy­press House at St. Luke’s.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s name comes from the cy­press tree, which, ac­cord­ing to Barnes, has long stood as a sym­bol of death, re­birth and trans­for­ma­tion into strength. Thriv­ing in hot, dry cli­mates, cy­press trees pro­vide shade and re­lief for those in dis­tress. Barnes wants her church to do the same for Scran­ton, pro­vid­ing com­pas­sion and re­lief to those suf­fer­ing within the com­mu­nity.

“We liked the idea of re­birth, new chances and fresh starts,” she said.

This lead Barnes — Cy­press House’s pres­i­dent and CEO — and the vestry at St. Luke’s to fo­cus their out­reach on men and women in North­east Penn­syl­va­nia re-en­ter­ing so­ci­ety from prison. With Lack­awanna County hav­ing one of the high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rates in the state, Barnes knew the need was great and that the first chal­lenge a per­son re-en­ter­ing so­ci­ety faces is find­ing em­ploy­ment.

Dr. He­len Wolf, di­rec­tor of cam­pus min­istries at Univer­sity of Scran­ton and a Cy­press House board mem­ber, wants the pro­gram to pro­vide hope.

“When talk­ing about help­ing those formerly in­car­cer­ated, con­ver­sa­tions of­ten fo­cus on the crimes that were com­mit­ted,” she said. “Not dis­cussed as of­ten is how to as­sist those want­ing to turn their lives around and be­come con­tribut­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.”

Once some­one re­pays his or her debt to so­ci­ety, Barnes said they de­serve a sec­ond chance, and “we want to be a chan­nel for that.”

“We have so many folks (in our com­mu­nity) who are or have been in­car­cer­ated, who just have fallen on hard times in some way,” she said. “Cir­cum­stances of life cause peo­ple to get in­volved in things they might oth­er­wise have not done.”

Since the kitchen at St. Luke’s has pro­fes­sional bread ovens, Cy­press House’s first out­reach pro­gram will be a bak­ery. The non­profit hopes to take on five ap­pren­tice bak­ers with only one job pre­req­ui­site — they must have a crim­i­nal record.

Barnes is mod­el­ing Cy­press House Bak­ery af­ter the Bak­ery at Home­boy In­dus­tries in Los An­ge­les, founded and di­rected by the Rev. Gre­gory Boyle, S.J. He opened a bak­ery in a gan­grid­den neigh­bor­hood and pro­vided em­ploy­ment to ri­val gang mem­bers. Now, Home­boy In­dus­tries is the largest gang-in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram in the world.

Barnes and Wolf re­cently spent two days in Los An­ge­les, where they met Boyle and learned all they could from him. Barnes called it an ex­traor­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence to lis­ten to him and take it all in. Boyle’s mis­sion with Home­boy In­dus­tries has in­spired them to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram through Cy­press House at St. Luke’s that will be ded­i­cated to the same lov­ing and spir­i­tual sen­ti­ments while be­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive in the com­mu­nity, pro­vid­ing vo­ca­tional train­ing and of­fer­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Cy­press House Bak­ery will launch as a sand­wich de­liv­ery pro­gram. Em­ploy­ees will cre­ate sand­wiches us­ing their own freshly baked bread and top-shelf in­gre­di­ents. Then, cus­tomers can or­der sand­wiches on­line and have them de­liv­ered right to their door, a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for down­town busi­nesses look­ing for a fresh lunch.

The lo­ca­tion will be con­ve­nient for the em­ploy­ees’ per­sonal lives too, Barnes said. Ex-in­mates might need to check in with their pa­role of­fi­cers or re­port to court, and work­ing in down­town Scran­ton makes get­ting to those ap­point­ments dur­ing the work day con­ve­nient and ac­ces­si­ble, es­pe­cially if they rely on pub­lic trans­porta­tion to get to work.

“Even wak­ing up and show­ing up for work will be an amaz­ing achieve­ment,” Barnes said of the em­ploy­ees. “You have to take baby steps be­fore you can take big ones.”

While this par­tic­u­lar out­reach through St. Luke’s is new, it con­tin­ues the church’s rich his­tory of so­cial ser­vices. When the build­ing was erected in 1871, Civil War physi­cian Dr. Ben­jamin Throop ran a free dis­pen­sary and in­fir­mary out of the old par­son­age. In the 1890s, St. Luke’s pro­vided free kinder­garten and started a boys’ club called the Boys’ In­dus­trial As­so­ci­a­tion. This taught im­por­tant life skills such as cob­bling, car­pen­try and me­chan­i­cal draw­ing to boys of all na­tion­al­i­ties.

The spirit be­hind those ser­vices lives on in Cy­press House and its name­sake bak­ery. Barnes wants her church to be what its his­toric motto states: “In the heart of things.”

“It’s about kin­ship,” she said. “Break­ing down those bar­ri­ers of ‘other,’ or ‘those peo­ple.’ It’s about build­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple in the com­mu­nity.”

Barnes al­ready has re­ceived three let­ters from peo­ple in­ter­ested in be­com­ing ap­pren­tice bak­ers.

“(The bak­ery) is an en­cour­age­ment for them,” she said. “It warms my heart.”

Wolf de­scribed the pro­gram as “bring­ing hope and sup­port to those who are seek­ing a way to sup­port them­selves and their fam­i­lies.”

“If we can get past the fear and the stereo­types, Cy­press House can of­fer that hope,” she said.

Barnes has big dreams for the fu­ture of Cy­press House Bak­ery, hop­ing to trans­form un­used church space to in­clude a new in­dus­trial kitchen and cafe. Do­na­tions, grants and pri­vate foun­da­tions will fund these as­pi­ra­tions as well as startup costs for the cur­rent out­reach. Barnes hopes to raise $300,000 to carry out this goal and took in sev­eral thou­sands for it through a Face­book-based fundraiser she started for her birth­day. She said any amount any­one can give can be sent to Cy­press House at St. Luke’s and will be humbly ac­cepted and gra­ciously re­ceived.

“It’s not just a do­na­tion,” Barnes said. “It is an in­vest­ment in our com­mu­nity.” Con­tact the writer: life­[email protected]­rock.com; 570-348-9127

JA­SON farmer / Staff PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The Rev. Re­becca A. Barnes and St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Church are open­inf Cy­press Hill Bak­ery — a full-ser­vice bak­ery and profram that helps men and women In North­east Penn­syl­va­nia reen­ter­inf so­ci­ety from prison.


The Rev. Re­becca Barnes sur­veys the down­stairs of St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Church. Since the kitchen at St. Luke’s has pro­fes­sional bread ovens, Cy­press House’s first out­reach pro­gram will be a bak­ery.


From left: Gath­er­ing at Home­boy In­dus­tries in Los An­ge­les are the Rev. Re­becca Barnes, pres­i­dent and CEO of Cy­press House at St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Church; Dr. He­len Wolf, di­rec­tor of cam­pus min­istries at Univer­sity of Scran­ton and Cy­press House board mem­ber; one of the “Home­girls” of Home­boy In­dus­tries; and Sharon Cran­dall, prison chap­lain in Los An­ge­les County and Cy­press House board mem­ber.

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