An Update from Project Return Regarding COVID-19

Thank you for your interest in Project Return. We are solely dedicated to the successful new beginnings of people who are returning after incarceration. Today, and every day, men and women are released from prison and jail facilities across Tennessee and arrive in our community, hoping against hope they can get on the path to a new beginning, and leave prison behind. They face nearly insurmountable odds…and now they face a new one: the coronavirus and the social distance it impels.

Project Return is here on the frontline. As the COVID-19 crisis took hold earlier this year, we at Project Return had to reorient ourselves and our work to a pandemic world. For a couple of weeks in March, we took to the phones, and to the streets, to stay in connection with the hundreds of people in our programs and to do everything we could to help them stay fed and sheltered, while we retrofitted our office and our operation aggressively, in line with – and beyond – CDC recommendations. 

By early April, we were building our programming back, but with a crisis-appropriate focus on our people’s subsistence and survival. We increased our on-site services day by day, and have worked nonstop to ramp up PROe, our original social enterprise, while keeping food in the fridges of our PRO Housing tenants and serving as the expert in unemployment benefits and stimulus checks for the hundreds of our participants who had lost their jobs. Meanwhile, PROPS, our property solutions enterprise, is hard at work with commercial cleaning and landscaping. And now, a new PROPS expertise, especially geared toward companies that are preparing to reopen: we provide disinfecting services for corporate and nonprofit clients! When Project Return had to relocate in the midst of the economic crisis, we seized that opportunity and employed our PROPS crew for the job. We have also built out entirely new modalities – including virtual and mobile and out-of-doors – for delivery of our tested-and-true Job Readiness classes. 

Through the entirety of May, we participated in Operation BBQ Relief and partnered with Peg Leg Porker and Martin’s BBQ to deliver 150 daily meals – 450 quarts of delicious food each day! – to our people and partners across the city. In fact, food provision became a major programmatic emphasis, starting in March, and we couldn’t have done this without the partnership of Nashville Food Project, Second Harvest Food Bank, and One Gen Away. Likewise, we’ve devoted significant effort to the basic needs of our people, including housing and other shelter, gratefully supported in that effort by United Way’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

Bill Barnes and Don Beisswenger, beloved founders of Project Return, made sure we knew that this work is all about proximity. But proximity in the midst of a pandemic takes different shapes, like setting up shop in the parking lot, delivering meals and groceries to doorsteps, and otherwise creatively staying as close as we can, while safely and responsibly apart. The relationships are here, the love is here, the deep belief in our people is here, and these things make us proximate.

Some things have not changed: destitution, hope, humility, motivation. We ask that you consider supporting Project Return generously in the midst of this crisis, knowing that we’ll put your donation to the best possible use, for people in terrible need.

Please keep the wellbeing of returners in your hearts and minds, even as all of us face down this pandemic and this recession. Know that our COVID-19 safety measures are not abating, nor is our quest for people’s brighter futures. And stay tuned as Project Return moves forward with the work of meaningful proximity.