The Long Branch Free Public Library has launched its new online Virtual Reentry Resource Center! Created by Library Director Tonya Garcia, this resource is designed to assist members of the community who have returned home to their communities after incarceration.
This resource is just one of many tools in the Fresh Start @ Your Library service, dedicated to assisting the formerly incarcerated with finding jobs, connecting to local resources, or getting education and training. While in-person services are limited to appointment only during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals returning home after completion of their prison terms and seeking to create a new beginning, can still find help virtually, 24/7.
In October, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 124, providing the NJDOC with the authority to grant temporary emergency home medical confinement to certain at-risk inmates who have not committed a serious offense. Approximately 3,000 individuals met the criteria for consideration. Governor Murphy also signed a first-in-the-nation bill (S-2519) reducing sentences in a prison system with the highest coronavirus death rate in the country. About 2,088 people are expected to be freed on November 4th, according to an estimate from the governor’s office. It is imperative that these individuals can easily access necessary housing and employment resources as they return home. Returning citizens often have a difficult time transitioning back into society, primarily because of a lack of employment. Now, during the pandemic, finding safe housing also is a primary concern for those who may be homeless or lack family members who can assist them with stable living space. The Long Branch Free Public Library is committed to helping prepare individuals for successful reentry into the workforce and community life.
The Library has long been known as a trusted community resource center and a vital part of the fabric of the Long Branch community, where everyone is welcome and given equal access to life-changing resources. This was even truer after the Great Recession. In 2009, Ms. Garcia created the Fresh Start Reentry as a dedicated service to meet the needs of the City and to break the cycles of recidivism. For a decade, this unique initiative was focused on reconnecting returning citizens with their communities, actively assisting with the reentry process by successfully providing integral resources, training, and support to these individuals.
Through her work on the Monmouth County Reentry Task Force, Tonya Garcia created a partnership between the NJ State Parole Board and the Long Branch Free Public Library to expand services. Realizing this issue to be bigger than a local one, Ms. Garcia reached out to the New Jersey State Library to serve as a partner. In June 2019, the New Jersey State Library was awarded a National Leadership Grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, totaling $628,774. The NJ State Library, the New Jersey State Parole Board, and the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development then partnered to adopt the Long Branch Free Public Library’s Fresh Start Reentry program and rebranded and expanded it to include four additional participating libraries in New Jersey and one in Philadelphia. Now known as Fresh Start @ Your Library, this innovative plan enables participating libraries to provide reentry support and services to citizens returning to their home communities after early release, being paroled, or maxing out.
The journey begins with a private session with an onsite licensed social worker who will assist in developing a personalized plan identifying immediate needs with a concrete strategy to help meet those needs. This includes acquiring stable housing, referrals to employment opportunities, job readiness and occupational skills training, and library resources and classes. Participants will also have access to job and community resource fairs, GED prep materials and free GED exams, and visits by social service organizations to get identification, obtain a driver’s license, access benefits, and other life essentials.
To learn more about the Virtual Reentry Resource Center and the Fresh Start @ Your Library program, visit www.freshstartlibrary.com. To make an appointment for reentry services, please call our staff social worker, David Perez, MSW, at 732-222-3900, ext. 2290 or email
Main Library, 328 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ, 732.222.3900, www.longbranchlib.org