Graduates seize opportunity for a brighter future

Graduates seize opportunity for a brighter future

Published 8:07 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023

LAPLACE — Graduates of the Opportunity Now Criminal Justice Diversion Program have taken a step toward bettering their future by pursuing workforce and training opportunities that promote sustainable personal success.

The 14th Opportunity Now graduating class was celebrated during a ceremony July 26 at Petra Restaurant in LaPlace. Graduates present at the ceremony were Mark Kimble, Rashod Pierre, Mykel Cook, Kevin Hollinger, Joseph Jacobs and Quentin Gaines.

A collaborative effort between XP Synergy, the St. John Parish District Attorney’s Office, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, and Louisiana Rehabilitative Services, Opportunity Now is an intense three-month rehabilitation program that remedies negative behavior with a curriculum focused on work readiness and life skills.

The first phase of the program takes place in a classroom setting and includes discussions on the following topics: social skills and personal development; problem solving and decision making; and conflict resolution/ anger management.

By offering pre-trial diversion resources offered to first-time offenders with no prior contact with the criminal justice system, the St. John District Attorney’s Office aims to deter future criminal behavior. With a recidivism rate of just 6.8%, more than 93% of Opportunity Now graduates have avoided further contact with the criminal justice system.

“We talk about values, ethics and goals,” said St. John District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut. “We also have a section on victim awareness and restitution where we examine how crimes you might not think are hurting anybody are affecting the community and society.”

According to Dinvaut, Opportunity Now participants must be employed prior to graduation unless they have a disability recognized by the state of Louisiana. The second phase of the program deals with the job seeking process, from resume writing to interview etiquette. There is also a financial literacy component that includes budgeting and the basics of banking.

Class 14 currently has an employment rate of 87%, Dinvaut said.

XP Synergy offers support resources to participants in addition to regular monitoring with weekly or sometimes daily check-ins for the one-year duration of the program. Participants also have access to counseling and support up to and beyond graduation.

“Even after you graduate, you’re still invited to view us as a resource for anything you might need. We want to give you every opportunity to succeed. Just because you finish a class doesn’t mean you can’t continue to get resources from the District Attorney’s Office or from Opportunity Now,” Dinvaut said. “I’m so very proud of the work (the graduates) put in, and I’m proud of the successes that they’ve accomplished. We hope and wish them the best going forward. We would like to bring them back to speak to class 15 or 16 because that is one of the traditions of the program to bring people have completed the program back to talk about their experiences.”

Opportunity Now includes both adult and youth services. Adult services within the criminal justice system include diversion and re-entry. Alayna Carter, director of Adult Services, has also worked with the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office to reduce recidivism rates of individuals returning to the community from correctional facilities.

“It’s about making sure these guys become productive citizens so that they can go back into society and be a better man, a better father, a better son, a better taxpaying citizen, and a hard worker. They have the skills. We just have to go in and re-introduce them,” Carter told L’OBSERVATEUR during a Fall 2022 Opportunity Now graduation.

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