PATHS to a Second Chance: How Stukent Helps Incarcerated Women in the Televerde Foundation

Second chances are the Televerde Foundation’s first priority. The foundation seeks to “provide currently and formerly incarcerated women with the personal and professional development programs necessary to successfully join and advance in the global workforce.” Those words are more than just a motto — they’re a mission that drives every member of the foundation to do their life-changing work.

Their endeavors align with Stukent’s® mission to help educators help students help the world. Recently, Kevin Sumter, Chief Revenue Officer at Stukent, introduced the Televerde Foundation’s staff to the Stukent Personal Finance Simulation — a hands-on educational tool that allows users to practice essential personal finance skills in a safe, simulated environment. The foundation has since adopted the simulation into its program, helping participants learn vital personal finance skills. 

Kevin sat down with the Televerde Foundation’s Head of Programs, Oonagh McQuarrie, for an interview about the foundation’s work and its new partnership with Stukent.

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Televerde Foundation

Oonagh McQuarrie is one of many exceptional women who run the Televerde Foundation. “It’s impossible not to be impressed by the work these women do,” Kevin said. “The Televerde Foundation has a proven track record of effecting powerful, positive change in the lives of its participants.”

The foundation’s executive director, Michelle Cirocco, began working for Televerde when she was serving a seven-year prison sentence at Perryville, and often says she went “from the cell block to the C-suite” thanks to Televerde’s programs. Many of Televerde Foundation’s staffers also began their careers this way, though Oonagh took a different route to the foundation. 

Summer, 2020. As COVID-19 ravaged the country, Oonagh found herself working from home, her laptop perched on a shaky stack of textbooks. “I was not set up to work from home,” she said, recalling her makeshift “office” with a laugh. Her organization had just donated money to the Televerde Foundation, then assigned her to write an article about the women participating in the program. 

“When I got on Zoom to interview these women, it was all black screens,” Oonagh said. “They don’t have access to cameras. But as soon as I started asking them questions, their vibrancy and positivity just blasted out of the computer screen. I didn’t want to hang up the phone, … I felt this light coming out of the computer, something my life felt so lacking in at the time.”

Struck by the buoyant, life-affirming conversations she had with the Televerde participants, Oonagh volunteered to write about the women’s journeys through the program. She learned about their challenges and their successes; but most of all, she witnessed how Televerde transformed their lives. It not only gave women the training and tools they needed to thrive, but it showed them that they were intelligent, capable, and worthy human beings in their own right.

Eventually, Oonagh lost her job in a round of COVID-related layoffs … but she got her own second chance with the Televerde Foundation. “The stars aligned,” she said. “The same week I was laid off, the program director at Televerde Foundation reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I put my notice in this week — are you interested in interviewing for the job?’”

Oonagh joined a dedicated team of professionals helping the women in the Televerde Foundation program break past the psychological, emotional, and social barriers they face. “It’s changed me personally,” she said. “The weight on my shoulders feels so much lighter — it’s impossible to be in a space like this and not grow and develop yourself.”

The Power of the PATHS Program

One can see how rewarding the program is from the warmth in Oonagh’s personality and from the stories the women of Televerde tell. In video interviews, participants often speak of struggles with self-worth and self-confidence. Many women say that before they came to Televerde Foundation, they didn’t believe they were smart or talented enough to have a stable job, a safe home, and a happy family. 

With a 94.1% reintegration success rate, the Televerde Foundation doesn’t just set incarcerated women up for success … it prepares them to thrive. The Televerde Foundation shows its participants that they can achieve all of their dreams, and perhaps more importantly, that they have the ability to actualize those dreams themselves. It’s a powerful message that helps women create real, lasting change in their lives. 

That’s one reason why Kevin reached out to the Televerde Foundation after he arrived at Stukent. “I’ve seen what this program means to its staff and participants firsthand,” he said. “The foundation’s objectives align with Stukent’s mission to help educators help students help the world, and I knew there were ways we could help the staff and the program’s participants exceed their personal and professional goals.”

So, how does the Televerde Foundation help women foster the skills they need to reenter society? To start, the women in the program fulfill a variety of professional roles in sales, IT, and customer service, giving them the hands-on experience — and more importantly, the confidence — they need to succeed in the workforce. When they graduate from the program, many of them go to work for organizations such as SAP, Microsoft, Adobe, and other major corporations. 

While a great job is one component of reducing recidivism, it isn’t the only predictor of successful reentry. Without training and support, approximately 49% of women will re-offend within five years. 

“We have an obligation to prepare these women not just to walk into a job, but to reenter society,” Oonagh said. “It’s a lot of pressure to go from incarceration to stepping out into the world. Reunifying with your family, finding housing, securing transportation … like, it’s all so much. How do we prepare these women to persevere through all of that and be successful?”

That’s where Televerde’s PATHS Programs enters the picture. The PATHS Programs contain six essential focus areas, including:

  • Personal Wellness
  • Workplace Readiness
  • Professional Development
  • Financial Literacy
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Mentoring

“PATHS stands for Prepare, Achieve, and Transform for Healthy Success,” Oonagh said. “I call it our ‘original recipe programming,’” because it provides women with hands-on, work-based learning experiences and soft skills development that lead to increased professional opportunities. 

The Workplace Readiness and Professional Development components of the PATHS Programs help participants “develop an understanding of professional etiquette and strategies for success in the workplace,” according to Televerde Foundation’s website. Participants get support and education for resume writing, interviewing, and job searching skills. The program goes so far as to hold mock interviews with real employers, which helps participants build their skill sets and professional networks.

But professional development and workplace readiness aren’t the only skills the women of Televerde Foundation need for success in the world. 

How the Stukent Personal Finance Simulation Helps Televerde

One of the biggest challenges Televerde Foundation participants face, of course, is economic. Thanks to their time working while incarcerated, some Televerde Foundation participants will reenter society with tens of thousands of dollars in their savings accounts. It’s a challenge to prepare participants to manage their money wisely. 

“Financial literacy is fundamental to success,” Oonagh said. “If you’ve never had twenty or thirty thousand dollars in your bank account before, the risk is very high that you’ll go out and blow that money … which leads you to make the kinds of decisions that brought you to prison in the first place.”

Kevin agreed. “Of all the resources Stukent has to offer, I knew the Personal Finance Simulation would do the most good at Televerde Foundation. It mimics the way money works in the real world and helps the participants build the skills they need to manage their finances wisely, affect generational change, and break the cycle of recidivism.”

The simulation provides Televerde Foundation participants with a safe, simulated environment to experiment with the challenges of personal finance. It imitates real-world accounts, credit and mortgage applications, tax documents, and so much more. Individual choices dictate realistic outcomes and consequences, which means no two experiences in the simulation are exactly alike.

“It allows participants to practice financial literacy skills, ask questions, and get things wrong,” Oonagh said. “But most importantly, it allows them to make a lot of these big financial decisions before there are real-world consequences associated with those choices.”

And that’s the true benefit of the Stukent Personal Finance Simulation — it gives each participant a space to develop a personal approach to their finances. Each week, participants get a simulated salary to allocate to bills, housing, car payments, and other obligations. If they want to succeed, they need to budget their funds carefully, make smart financial choices (such as selecting the right insurance plan), and save for the Life Happens! feature, which introduces random life events that may or may not break the bank.

“It’s the closest we can get to practical application while participants are still inside,” Oonagh said. “The Personal Finance Simulation is a great tool for empowerment — it gives you the tools you need to operate in this world and not get left behind.”

When asked what else she would like to say about the Televerde Foundation and its remarkable women, Oonagh said, “I would encourage anybody who’s reading this to challenge their perceptions of what incarceration means and who incarcerated people are. It’s a lot more complicated than people think — there are people in here who deserve to serve a prison sentence, but they don’t deserve a lifetime of condemnation, expulsion, and rejection.”

“I speak for everyone on the Stukent team when I say we couldn’t agree more,” Kevin added. “We hope that the Stukent Personal Finance Simulation helps you help your participants change their lives — and the world — for the better.”

At Stukent, we believe education gives people the opportunity to transform themselves, their communities, and our world. We’re proud to partner with the Televerde Foundation to help break the cycle of incarceration and recidivism, helping to change women’s lives one simulation at a time.

To learn more about the Televerde Foundation and how you can help, visit their website.

Stukent is here to help educators help students help the world. To learn more about our first-in-the-world Simternships™ and courseware, or to get FREE instructor access to our products, visit us online.

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