Every year, the Amicus services of VOA MN/WI celebrates volunteers, donors, and partners that make their work possible. This year, over 120 people gathered for the 2023 Amicus Champions of Change celebration at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
The program opened with special guests, Voices of Hope, a musical ensemble that builds choral singing communities in correctional facilities in the state of Minnesota. Led by Voices of Hope fellow Laura Clapp, the ensemble’s first performance was “I am becoming,” an inspiring song about growth and discovery composed by Linda Kachelmeier.
VOA MN/WI President and CEO, Julie Manworren welcomed the group with a message of how stronger communities are made through positive connections. “Several great commonalities we share as human beings, is that we crave, no really we need, a sense of connection, belonging and well-being. We each need that from birth all the way through our lives, and in order to have that we need to have a secure place in the world. And this requires a supportive community, a community like you.” She concluded her remarks with recognition of all those who support Amicus and second chances. With the generosity of our donors, partners, volunteers, and sponsors, hundreds of men and women find support and a fresh start after incarceration through VOA’s Amicus reentry services each year.
Featured speakers, Coley and Gary, longtime friends through the Amicus One-to-One program, took the stage to share their inspiring story of friendship. When first matched in 2014, Coley and Gary bonded through their shared love of faith, family, and sports. Over the last nine years, the two have become closer than ever, sharing that they now consider each other family. Coley shared, “I know Amicus said we’re friends, but that’s over, we’re family now.”
For Coley, friendship carried him through his incarceration. “Relationships, I feel like life is about relationships, and so, without them what do you have? And when you’re incarcerated you get sent to prison, alone. The relationships you had are now cut off to a certain extent. And so, when you do have healthy relationships that’s what carries you through this time because when you’re incarcerated it’s a hard time, it’s a hard place,” he said. “When you’re incarcerated, you’re living in a black and white TV, that’s your life. The relationships is when the color came in. All my relationships brought color when I was living in a black and white world.”
Gary spoke about how being a mentor impacted his own life in ways he never expected. “Coley has brought me perspective that I’ve never had, he talks about you know my giving to him, but I look back at some of the peripheral and faithful experiences we’ve had and they’re some of the deepest I’ve ever experienced.”
The pair plans on continuing their friendship as Coley transitions back to community and beyond. Gary shared “it’s been a wonderful experience and I’m glad that Coley wants me to continue on the journey and we’ll see where the good Lord guides us.”
Amicus has an annual tradition of honoring an individual, group or organization whose partnership and contributions have had a significant positive impact on Amicus and the work they do. The event concluded with honoring the 2023 Amicus Champion of Change, Lou Welter. Her two decades of service are inspiring in their variety and her leadership came at a crucial time for the organization. Lou got her start with Amicus as a volunteer, supporting women who were incarcerated at Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee.
She joined the Amicus Board of Directions in the mid-2000s, eventually serving as Board Chair. During her tenure on the Board, Lou was part of the leadership team who successfully completed the 2013 merger of Amicus with Volunteers of America of Minnesota.
Lou is a champion of using both her talents and her financial resources for the benefit of her community. As an individual donor to Amicus, Lou was able to leverage her corporate standing at Ameriprise Financial Advisors Inc. to obtain matching gifts for Amicus. Lou then helped foster the growth of the relationship with Ameriprise to include yearly grants to Amicus, and later, VOA, from the Ameriprise Foundation.
During her remarks, Lou said “These connections are what is so important[…] I think of it a lot like a puzzle, and I think our lives are all a puzzle…and most of us have the opportunity to build that from the time we’re born…Somewhere along the way there’s a disconnect for some of our fellow citizens that end up incarcerated but when they are released and come back to the community they’re building their whole puzzle again.”
In closing, Voices of Hope performed "Just Believe With Me," a song that carries a message of strength, accompaniment, and hope that was composed by Lia Pearson, an alum of both Voices of Hope and Amicus' Sisters Helping Sisters Program. Voices of Hope is another example of the positive impact of relationships for those currently or recently incarcerated.
“Amicus’ primary purpose is to connect people involved in the criminal justice system to positive relationships with community members and many of you. This helps strengthen more successful lives and stronger communities. Amicus provides one of the state’s longest standing and most successful transitional mentoring programs and we always have a great need for more volunteers.” – Julie Manworren
Amicus is one of the few VOA services supported largely by individual giving. We need you so we can be there to help others on their challenging paths after incarceration.
- To view current volunteer opportunities please visit One to One Mentor | Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin (voamnwi.org).
- To donate to Amicus please visit Donate to Amicus - Volunteers of America (voa.org)
Thank you to all those who helped make this a night to remember! Our event sponsors, Fredrikson, Larkin Hoffman, Messerli & Kramer, Minnesota Vikings, Restoration Professionals, and individual donors Peter and Kim Sop. As well as Vittles Catering for providing appetizers and refreshments, Chad Smith for pre-program music, and all of the volunteers.