The Rescue Mission of Trenton held a commencement for the inaugural class of a transformative, three-week program to help individuals in recovery see new possibilities in themselves.

The commencement, held on November 18th, was for the inaugural class of The New Direction Project, which Barrett Young, Chief Executive Officer of The Mission, said, “was designed to provide individuals in recovery with the opportunity to reflect, learn and see something they have never seen before – which is their real potential.”

For the six individuals in recovery who were selected to participate in this innovative, three-week pilot program, Young added, “I believe this will be a life-changing experience.”

This course was developed by Young and Chef Jeff Henderson, an award-winning chef and author of the New York Times best-seller Cooked, who discovered his passion and gift for cooking in a most unlikely place: Federal Prison.

“It was in prison, which can be the darkest place on earth, that I made a choice to change,” said Henderson, who, at the age of 24, was facing 10 years-to-life in prison on federal charges – after making $35,000 a week selling crack cocaine on the streets of Southeast San Diego. “I have a prison high school diploma,” he added. “I met wise and unexpected mentors when I was there. Still, I had to find my own way.”

“Our premise is that individuals who are in recovery can start to create a new perception of themselves and their future by connecting with others who have overcome similar challenges, by providing them with access to educational and vocational opportunities, and by creating a support network of mentors who will assist them afterwards. Having a strong foundation and a solid support network are key,” said Young.

In addition to Chef Jeff Henderson and Barrett Young, the program was taught by a talented faculty of experts – including business and nonprofit leaders, academicians, key Rescue Mission staff, experts in the field of recovery, and individuals who are also in recovery and have gone on to succeed. (Bios of the presenters is attached.)

This three-week interactive program and self-reflective experience focused on:

  • understanding why some people make it and others do not,
  • learning what drives them,
  • replacing old habits with newfound beliefs,
  • overcoming challenges,
  • giving yourself permission to dream, and
  • moving from vision to action.

Prior to the class, each individual took two brief assessments, which were developed at the University of Pennsylvania – one that measures signature strengths, the other that measures optimism:

  • The VIA Character Strengths Survey
  • Optimism Test

After the commencement for the inaugural class, the six participants are being matched to mentors who, during the course of a year, will help them stay focused on their goals, while overcoming any barriers or self-limiting beliefs.

The course, which will be repeated with two more cohorts within a year, is being independently evaluated by Alison Badgett, Executive Director of The Petey Greene Program, who will be assessing how each participant developed confidence, connections, and changes in their self-perception, along with making progress in pursuing their dream career. “The evaluation will guide improvements for the second cycle of the program, while helping refine the messages and planning needed to improve outcomes for formerly incarcerate individuals,” she said.

Among the key takeaways for the participants were:

“Feeling the confidence to reach out to people for help.”

“Knowing the steps I need to take to accomplish my dreams.”

“I can be more than who I thought I was before.”

“I’ve learned some very practical information, and real motivation.”

“I’m more focused, more determined.”

“Much more is possible than I thought before. I’m going in a different direction now.”

Deesha Dyer, the founder of Hook & Fasten, a global social impact firm, who was the White House Social Secretary in the Obama Administration, said, “Teaching about how to push through adversity in this project was important to me because this is my community, these could be any of my relatives. And everyone deserves the opportunity to live to their fullest potential.”

Greg Lorjuste, the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Urban Institute, who was the Director of Scheduling for former President Barack Obama, said, “Being part of this project spoke to me because this is real life. We cannot run away from our past. We’ve all made mistakes. Everyone here could be any of us. So, we need to be here for each other. And help each other see new possibilities.”

“Our goal is to create a life-changing experience, which can become a model for the future, helping individuals in recovery to see themselves in a positive new light – and to create a new direction for their future,” concluded Barrett Young.