Shontovia Atkinson could have chosen to give up hope after multiple setbacks in life, but quitting is not in her vocabulary. Instead, she has chosen to dedicate herself to providing hope and second chances to those she serves at Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana.
Atkinson is passionate about people, which fuels her focus on re-entry. “You have people who are in charge of companies who won’t hire ex-offenders,” Atkinson said. “If you have an opportunity to help someone by changing something within your organization, whether it’s a small business or large corporation, make those changes.”
This is exactly why Atkinson has thrown herself into growing New Beginnings, Goodwill’s six month transitional job program for reentering citizens, those exiting the criminal justice system to return to society. Participants are hired to work at Goodwill four days a week. On the fifth day, they attend a six-hour class with a specialist like Atkinson, who helps them with basic needs and stabilization activities – anything from reliable housing and transportation to life skills development and rebuilding family relationships.
Above all, Atkinson helps program participants begin to view themselves as upstanding community members, in spite of mistakes in their past or cycles they’ve been part of. “I really believe people can change,” she said. “They should not just accept who they are or who people say they are.”
“I am often impressed by how quickly Shontovia is able to build a rapport with her participants. This rapport leads to a trusting relationship which allows Shontovia to provide a level of support many of the people she serves have never experienced, even in their own families,” said her 100 Heroes nominator Betsy Delgado.
Atkinson relates to participants well because she understands first-hand what they have been through. Her mother passed away when Atkinson was just six years old, and her father was in and out of prison. When Atkinson was 14, her father was murdered. “Had his life not been taken, there was an opportunity for him to get it straight.”
While resources like New Beginnings weren’t there for Atkinson’s father, she’s gratified to be part of the solutions emerging to meet the needs of those rejoining her community now. “We really believe in the two-generational approach at Goodwill,” she said. “If we can touch the parents’ generation we can make a difference for generations to come.”