In celebration of its 150th year, First-Plymouth Church presented its $10,000 Love of Neighbor Award to “College is the Key to Inmates’ Tomorrow.”
The educational program, conceptualized by Nebraska Wesleyan University professor James Perry, pairs college students with Nebraska State Penitentiary inmates.
The students help teach inmates and participants earn college credits by completing a course in criminal justice. The program is designed to build more resilient, employable inmates post-release, and increase college students’ awareness of the criminal justice system, Perry said.
First-Plymouth created the Love of Neighbor award to highlight its 150-year-old mission “to increase the love of God and neighbor.” It received 24 nominations.
“I am grateful to First-Plymouth for this award,” Perry said. “The funds will be put to good use in a way that expresses love of neighbor, in this case, to prison inmates who are strongly motivated to build a better life, and to college students who are partners in building the program as they earn college credit.
"By making it possible for inmates to earn college credit, we are providing them with building blocks for a productive life as good citizens after release from prison. Hope is a very important element in their lives, and this places hope within their grasp.”
NWU student Taylon Sumners said the inmate program bridges the gap between the offender and the community.
“The first time I went to the prison to teach I was a little nervous and I had no idea what to expect, however I was pleasantly surprised," he said. "The gentlemen we have the opportunity to work with are not only intelligent, but they treat the student teachers with more respect than I would typically receive from someone out on the street.
“By working with inmates, we as members of the community are able to humanize people that are continuously placed out of sight and out of mind."