Project Rebound scholars and supporters celebrated Thanksgiving early by gathering to give thanks for the opportunity to pursue a higher education, especially in light of a new donor.
The luncheon, held in a “gratitude circle” around a makeshift communal table of desks, offered the previously incarcerated individuals involved in Project Rebound a chance to share their stories.
“It did what it was supposed to do, allow us to have a space around a meal to acknowledge one another, to look in each other’s eyes, to share our stories and to just say thank you and to ask any questions that we may have about why people give to programs that support formerly incarcerated people,” said Romarilyn Ralston, Project Rebound’s program coordinator.
Project Rebound is a program that aims to provide previously incarcerated individuals with the opportunities and resources they need to earn a college degree and avoid reincarceration.
Two representatives of the Bickerstaff Family Foundation, Debbie Bickerstaff and Dave Bishop, came to the luncheon as new donors looking to gain more insight into who the program serves.
Ralston said the foundation’s support will help Project Rebound provide book stipends, meal support, travel expenses and operating support.
The funding will also help launch a new scholarship in 2018 and provide interested scholars with housing.
“They’ve been very generous to the program. We wanted them to have an opportunity to meet a lot of the scholars and just to hear firsthand what the services we provide for them means,” Ralston said.
Project Rebound scholars and donors were equally interested in each other’s stories.
“I was glad to be a part of it, and I learned a lot,” said Charles Fagan, a human services major who became a Project Rebound scholar about two months ago. “I learned that there are good people in the world that support people who are trying to make a difference in their lives and that are trying to rebound, come back from where they’ve been.”
The scholars and Bickerstaff representatives were joined by other Project Rebound and CSUF staff supporting the program.
“Just hearing these stories from these people, who are across the table from me who are bearing their souls about this stigma (surrounding incarceration) and this judgement and this safe space they didn’t have before Project Rebound was just the most moving, powerful, magical, incredible experience I’ve ever had,” said CSUF alumna Kelsey Loup, who volunteers for Project Rebound.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Sheryl Fontaine and Director of Development Alina Mircea-Trotz attended the luncheon to meet Project Rebound scholars and thank the Bickerstaff Family Foundation for supporting programs housed in the college.
“It was nice to meet up with the providers,” said Robert Duesler, a fifth-year human services major and Project Rebound scholar who served as a student intern for the program. “I think Project Rebound provides a safe spot for (the previously incarcerated) on campus that we need, and it’s been able to increase my ability to complete my college program.”
The event was catered by Monkey Business Cafe, which Ralston said is a “great partner company” with a similar belief in supporting individuals who have been incarcerated and need a second chance.
Ralston said Project Rebound creates a “powerful space” that allows scholars to talk about their pasts without judgement or stigma, a sentiment shared by her office neighbor Millie Aranda, CSUF Bold Women’s Leadership Network program coordinator, who was invited to the luncheon.
“I think it reminds us all about the strong contributions these students make to our campus and classrooms,” Aranda said. “We need them sitting at these tables, talking about their stories in a way that really motivates and inspires us to go out and move forward in higher education and provide access to students who don’t otherwise get access to these kinds of spaces.”