The Jail Ministry of Otsego County celebrated 60 years and honored four local benefactors Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Quality Inn in Oneonta.
Awardees recognized for their service to the community were Julie Dostal, executive director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions; state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford; Oneonta Police Chief Douglas Brenner and Jail Ministry board member Ed Craig, who is moving away from the area.
The ministry offers worship, Bible study and fellowship opportunities with inmates in the county jail.
“It’s helping troubled lives find peace and wholeness in the Christian walk,” said Ameen Aswad, the ministry’s executive director. “We go in there letting them know their past does not have to dictate their future.”
In 2018, Seward presented a proclamation declaring the month of April as Second Chance Month, which is a national movement organized by Prison Fellowship designed to bring awareness to the stigma and barriers faced by those coming out of prison or jail.
“I have a deep and abiding admiration for all those who are involved in jail ministry,” Seward said. “One of the major problems we face is a high rate of recidivism with people coming in and out of our county jail. With the jail ministry program, it seems to me this is how it will end. You give people some hope, help them get through the experience of being incarcerated and give them a spiritual base, as well as an emotional base in any other way, so they have a better chance of being successful upon release.”
After his remarks, Seward presented Aswad with special New York Senate citation honoring the Jail Ministry on the celebration of its 60th anniversary.
“I think the recognition should be going the other way to the Jail Ministry program,” Seward said. “Congratulations, and thank you for all you do.”
Dostal has been with LEAF since 1998 and serves with Aswad on the Alcohol and Other Drug Task Force of Otsego County. In her remarks, she spoke about the need to create a healthy environment so fewer people need the services of the ministry.
“It is a blessing to know that the folks who work with the Jail Ministry have the opportunity to interact with people on what is possibly the very worst day of their entire lives,” she said.
Brenner has been with the Oneonta Police Department since 1998 and serves on the LEAF board of directors, the Opioids Task Force and Otsego County Alternatives to Incarceration, and is a committee member of Suicide Awareness For Everyone.
“Police departments nowadays have to look beyond just arresting and throwing someone in jail. That isn’t how it works,” Brenner said. “I think we all want the same thing: to be able to help our society grow, help our neighborhoods become better and keep somebody from doing themselves or someone else harm.”
Don Rifenburgh, an attendee who said he benefited from the Jail Ministry’s services, gave his testimony to the crowd.
Rifenburgh, who said he is 10 years free of drugs and alcohol, spoke about how difficult it was transitioning back into society, but also of the hope that the Jail Ministry instilled in him.
“Jail Ministry has taught me the tools I needed,” he said. “Jail Ministry can’t change your life; it won’t change your life, but it can give us the tools we need.”
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.