Library, Corrections Team Up on Community Resource Fairs

People who have been incarcerated or who require Johnson County Community Corrections supervision often need help with re-entry into normal life, including finding jobs, mental health therapy, educational opportunities or other community services. In answering that crucial need, the Johnson County Corrections Department and Johnson County Library have teamed up to offer monthly Community Resource Fairs at Central Resource Library. These one-stop shops provide access to a host of vital agencies and referrals on the road to successful re-entry.

The Central branch, 9875 W. 87th St., hosted its first resource fair Dec. 13 in the Carmack Room, with about 25 or 30 agencies and about 25 clients. It went so well that future gatherings are planned the second Tuesday of every month in 2023. 

“It’s just another great partnership with Corrections and Johnson County Library,” said Incarcerated Services Librarian Melody Kinnamon, who has worked closely with Corrections for five years to connect justice-involved clients with Library services. “Why the Library loves it, of course, is we get people into the Library. We want to connect with them and let them know all about what we can do with them.”

The idea first surfaced last year with Corrections officials who wanted to provide a central gathering space to build relationships among the agencies and clients. They quickly outgrew a large conference room at Lenexa’s Corrections location on West 87th Street, so approached Kinnamon for options. “We chose the Library because it provides a neutral atmosphere,” said Stacy Wilmes, senior case manager with Corrections. “It’s so supportive. If you walk in, you will see there are a lot of people in our community with a passion to help. If we offer this opportunity, we may be able to help identify and fill gaps that Corrections alone can’t.” 

Wilmes said she worked with a team of about eight colleagues on this important project. They want to provide sustained support and encouragement, breaking down barriers for people overcoming significant challenges. Clients are often under felony supervision and may be dealing with the aftermath of domestic violence or substance abuse offenses.  “We’re looking at long-term, generational change,” Wilmes said, adding that many clients don’t realize what the Library and other community partners offer.

Wilmes and her colleagues greet the clients at these fairs and personally connect them with providers to address their needs, such as community college courses, job training, volunteer mentors, medical and dental care, school opportunities for their children, and housing and transportation referrals. Providers also connect with each other in positive ways. “We really build on these relationships,” Wilmes said. Client testimonials say the events exceeded their expectations. They felt welcomed and valued. 

“It was convenient to have this all at one place,” wrote one client.

“It was a lot more helpful than I thought it was going to be,” wrote another client. “I don’t feel like I was just another person there. I actually felt like they all cared about bettering my life and not just trying to sign me up for random stuff.”

Wilmes said research shows that access to these types of quality referrals greatly improves the chances for long-term, successful behavioral change. Kinnamon believes Central Library is ideally located for this collaboration. It’s also a place where these justice-involved individuals were able to discover the MakerSpace, view art on the walls and get Library cards and an introduction to many online services.

“It was a great way for me to tell them about all the things we do for free,” she said. “Now, they are in this wonderful learning, exploring environment that is the Library.”