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Reaching the Summit

November 21, 2013

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Vendors packed the auditorium. Pamphlets lined tables and tables lined the gym floor. Even though we were in the basement at the field house in Chicago’s Riis Park, we had reached the Summit of Hope.

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, “the Summit of Hope is a community expo, bringing together local service providers to create a one-stop environment for invited parolees and probationers to obtain necessary assistance to move past barriers, which may prevent an individual from leading a successful life.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation was on sight to educate people about traffic laws that were recently passed. Housing advocates set up shop on the old basketball court, as did employment specialists and medical professionals, many of whom were conducting HIV and hepatitis C screenings. The Secretary of State’s Office was there to help people secure new state IDs, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) was present to connect individuals with food, housing, and health care resources.

This was an example of our state’s social safety net in action.

Here’s how it worked: Volunteers connected with parolees at the auditorium’s front door and walk them through the maze of booths, introducing them to vendors and connecting them with services that met their needs.

“The summit boils down to community health,” said Rev. Doris Green, AFC’s Director of Correctional Health and Community Affairs. She’s also the founder of Men and Women in Prison Ministries, a Chicago-based organization that provides services for people who are incarcerated, parolees, and their families.

“How can we expect to have healthy communities if we don’t take care of our prison population? Summit of Hope events like this take a comprehensive approach to connecting vulnerable people with health insurance, with housing, with food stamps, with the tools they need to rebuild their lives outside of prison."

Megan Neubauer, one of AFC’s Navigators, was there to help people learn about the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. Many parolees were eligible for Medicaid or CountyCare, both are insurance programs for people who experience poverty, while others qualified for private insurance on the federal marketplace.

“The Summit of Hope was meaningful,” Neubauer said. “Affordable, quality health insurance can really make a difference in peoples’ lives. When people are reentering their communities from prison, it’s important to make sure they have control over one of their most person, valuable assets: their health.”

The summit in Riis Park connected over 300 parolees with 40 vendors. The next Summit of Hope will be February 4, 2014, in Carbondale, Ill., and it will only be open to women.

For more information about upcoming Summit of Hope events, including ways to volunteer, visit the Illinois Department of Corrections’ website.

Categorized under Inside Story.

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