April 5, 2017

Community-service award winner changes inmates' lives

Rev. Emily Brault, chaplain at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, has seen 54 women graduate from the restorative justice course led by Mary Jane Govaerts, Thriving Families program manager at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

Many of these former inmates have gone on to thrive in the community, starting on a new, healthy path thanks to Govaerts' work. It’s her commitment, and its alignment with Kaiser Permanente’s mission, that earned her the distinction of being one of two Kaiser Permanente Northwest recipients of the 2017 David Lawrence Community Service Award.

When Govaerts moved to Wilsonville and reached out to the chaplain about starting a program in 2009, there were very few educational courses available for the inmates at Coffee Creek, let alone one that focused on introspection, growth and responsibility. Govaerts brings the classes to life through her connection with the women, helping them move towards change by addressing and understanding the crime they committed and how it impacted their victims, their community and themselves.

Cultivating accountability

As Rev. Brault explains, “She also has the ability to call people to their line in a way that doesn’t shut them down. To call people to their accountability without shame, without self-righteous indignation. She connects to people with a way that says ‘Yes, you did this and you’re lovable and you don’t have to do this again.’ The women feel very grateful and will say every time that they were changed by this class.”

Govaerts came from California with a background as a certified Victim Offender Education Group facilitator. She had worked with ex-offenders at the St. Vincent de Paul’s Catherine Center, a transitional residence for women released from incarceration. At first, she started having dinner with the women once a month as part of an outreach opportunity through a women’s fellowship group.

“I walked in there really anxious and nervous, but when I sat down and got to know them beyond the label of the ‘offender,’ I found I actually have more in common with these women than not,” Govaerts explained. Her engagement started out slowly, moving from monthly dinners to doing administrative work in St. Catherine’s office. That led to driving women to and from their appointments where she would hear their stories.

Life-changing work

While it’s difficult work, it’s also life-changing for the 54 women who have gone through the program. Twenty graduates of the program have been released from Coffee Creek and now reside in the same communities where they committed their crimes. Thanks to Govaerts’ work, the women have a better understanding of their impact on their communities, and the Kaiser Permanente mission lives on through safe and thriving neighborhoods for everyone.

About the David Lawrence Community Service Award

The David Lawrence Community Service Award is named after David Lawrence, MD, former CEO and chairman of the boards of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. The award honors Dr. Lawrence’s commitment to foster healthier communities and has developed into Kaiser Permanente’s most prestigious national community service award, given to employees who exemplify the mission of developing healthier communities outside of their workplace. Mary Jane Govaerts is one of two Kaiser Permanente Northwest staff to receive the David Lawrence Community Service Award.