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Free prison shuttle ministry seeks funds for expansion

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The Use What You’ve Got Prison Ministry (UWYGPM) hosted their annual informational breakfast April 25 to educate the public about their mission and encourage donations for their upcoming projects.

Cecelia Whitfield welcomes guests and speaks about the needs and future plans for the Use What You’ve Got Prison Ministry. (Photo/Hanna Rauworth)

Spearheaded by Cecelia Whitfield, UWYGPM was a service born out of personal experience. The mother of an incarcerated person, she realized the lack of resources some family members had when it came to transportation to visit their loved ones. As a result, she created a bus ministry dedicated to shuttling families to and from prisons all over the state of Indiana.

“We have this breakfast to share with everyone about the Use What You Got program…We are the hidden victims. We can’t do this by ourselves,” said Whitfield, explaining the purpose of the annual breakfast.

The “hidden victims” are, in their words, families of imprisoned individuals without access to transportation to visit their loved ones – a challenge that makes these family members also feel as if they are imprisoned.

Founded in 1988, the nonprofit program facilitates travel to nearly 20 correctional facilities across Indiana and five juvenile correctional facilities. The juvenile facilities, Whitfield explains, are the key to ensuring the program’s success.

“These juveniles need to see their families. We need buses to bring healing to these families,” said Whitfield.

Utilizing seven core goals that center around keeping families connected and fostering a community of growth, UWYGPM relies on a network of volunteers and donations to support their program. Whitfield hopes to expand this network significantly in the years to come.

“I’m speaking it into existence. Families need help, and we need support,” said Whitfield.

In addition to the shuttle bus services, UWYGPM also provides support groups for women, holiday assistance for children, a series of presentations dedicated to helping families of incarcerated people and family advocacy programs for crisis intervention and home visits. Additionally, they offer financial literacy classes, mental health support, addiction recovery, education assistance, job fairs and an annual women’s retreat.

“The challenges faced by our loved ones and neighbors in the criminal justice system have long weighed on our minds,” said Indianapolis City-Council President Vop Osili, who shared his support for UWYGPM.

With over 700,000 miles travelled across Indiana through their shuttling programs, Whitfield encouraged donations to fund several new shuttle routes that will go further outside of Indianapolis and help establish a new 24/7 community center.

Through their research with Indiana University-Indianapolis, UWYGPM has learned that face-to-face visitations reduce recidivism by as much as 13% from just one visit, a statistic both Whitfield and Osili maintain shows the power of the work of UWYGPM, and where it is headed in the future.

“Thank you for the work you have been doing. You have changed so many lives,” Osili said to Whitfield.

For more information about UWYGPM, visit https://www.usewhatyouvegotministry.org/mission.html to learn more.

Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317.762.7854 or follow her at @hanna.rauworth 

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