A beacon of what is possible…

Today’s Tuesday Member spotlight is on Jason Bonsall. Jason graduated from our evidenced program on September 24, 2020!

When I think of Jason, the word that comes to mind is perseverance.  Jason lost two important individuals in his life  – his sister to substance abuse and his mother to a brain aneurysm.  Their loss is something that he carries with him constantly because he shared a close bond with them both.   That sense of loss can sometimes weigh heavily on him.  However, in talking with Jason he has turned that loss into a more positive viewpoint by considering his sister and mother as angels constantly with him and looking out for him. That is not to say there haven’t been bumps in the road on his way to completing the Wilmington HOPE Commission program, but at each “bump” Jason persevered and he knows that his angels are always with him.

Employment is one of the core goals of the Wilmington HOPE Commission’s evidenced based reentry program. Liveable wage employment in conjunction with other elements such as stable housing , cognitive behavioral intervention, and addressing any substance abuse/mental health issues are critical to reduce/avoid recidivism.  Soon after joining the Wilmington HOPE Commission program, Jason was employed. Jason began working with ABM Industries, Inc (an employment agency) in Shipping & Receiving for Tastykake.  Jason took to employment like a fish to water.  😊  He stayed with ABM Industries for nine months before accepting a position with JBW Enterprises which is an energy company.  Jason is a salesman in their Sales and Marketing department!  Jason tells me that he elected to work on full rather than partial commission because he can make more money that way. Why?  Because as he tells it with a twinkle in his eye – “he’s a pretty good salesman!”  I am sure he is!

When asked what he learned from the Wilmington HOPE Commission, Jason replied: “The HOPE Commission means continuous help and support.  Also, [it provides] the knowledge and continuous push [for me] to want to be better. [And it] provides a safe and secure outlet for my feelings.”  He also said that those “bumps in the road made him stronger”.  Additionally, he had some words of advice for others – “Don’t’ be afraid to ask for help – especially for guys”.

Congratulations are in order for Jason on a personal front.  He recently became engaged and the wedding is planned for next October!  On the professional front, he plans to become a licensed Home Inspector one day.  He already has a licensed home inspector that is willing to allow him to be an apprentice with him when his application is accepted. Jason found this home inspector apprenticeship opportunity on his own using those “salesman” skills no doubt.

Jason continues to persevere as he graduates from our program, with his two angels looking out for him as he moves to his next chapter in life. We look forward to his continuing successful reentry!

Today’s Tuesday Member spotlight is on Darvin Hagains. Darvin is scheduled to graduate from our program on October 26, 2020.

Darvin is a driven individual with a sly wit. When asked about our program he said  “The Wilmington HOPE Commission is what you make of it.  They will help out as long as you are doing your part.  If you [are] just doing nothing they will push you to do better and they [are] always there when you need them …most of the time. 😊”

One of the requirements for graduation from the Wilmington HOPE Commission reentry program is employment. Darvin’s initial employment was our Odd Jobs position at the HOPE Commission, which is a temporary starter job we have for a member who is job searching.  Darvin moved from Odd/Jobs to our seasonal Northeast Clean Crew before obtaining the two jobs he currently holds  – 1) FishisFast (Warehouse) and  2) Roots (Restaurant). His strong work ethic and dependability helped him progress from his initial starter jobs to his current positions. He also told me that he likes having his current bank account because his money makes money – called interest.

Additionally, Darvin has been recognized by the Wilmington HOPE Commission twice as a program participant.  First, in June with our “keep it up” award.  This is an encouragement award given to a member who is on track with our program. Secondly, Darvin was recognized in July with our Role Model award.  The Role Model award is the Wilmington HOPE Commission’s monthly award to a e who has met and maintained the four pillars of has met and maintained the four pillars of our program (i.e. 85% or better attendance, Employment of at least 35 hrs/week, Stable housing and is Substance abuse free.)

I asked Darvin why he is making the change now in his life.  He said “ It isn’t hard to change.”  He recalled how he used to terrorize his neighborhood because he didn’t have anyone to keep him from doing so.  But he now has two boys of his own and plans to be active in their lives so they don’t have the level of “free will” he had.

As I mentioned above, Darvin is driven and has a plan. He recently purchased a mobile home with his significant other and is currently renting the land it resides on.  His side hustle is lawn care/yardwork which he hopes to develop into a business. So if you have any yardwork let us know and we will connect you with Darvin!  Darvin is well on his way to successful reentry!


Today’s Member Spotlight is on Damien Robinson

The Wilmington HOPE Commission’s correctional reentry program seeks to graduate medium to high-risk justice-involved individuals  from its program to reduce/prevent recidivism of those individuals as they reenter society. We recognize that meeting the four required pillars (i.e. >85% program attendance, ~full time employment, stable housing, and being substance abuse free) for graduation is a high bar to meet by the medium to high risk justice-involved individuals we serve. However, we have recognized that some of those that are unable to meet our high bar for graduation during the program, still benefit from our evidence based program and are able to meet the end goal of not recidivating.  Damien Robinson is an example of such a person.  Damien recently visited the Achievement Center to let us know he is doing well. He is employed by Amazon through a temp agency.    In his own words he describes what the Wilmington HOPE Commission program meant to him.  In typical Damien form, he listed three items:


  1. “I received what all urban black men need and that was structure.”
  2. “I learned how to take care of my obligations and put priorities first.”
  3. “I got the greatest thing in life and that was another family – my professional family.”


Damien is a reminder to us all, that there are different ways other than graduation to measure the impact and success of our programming and services. The ultimate goal of our programming is to avoid recidivism and Damien is doing that!  One of the greatest compliments to all of us at the HOPE Commission is to know that members like Damien think of us as “family”.   That embodies true appreciation of the effort poured into each our members by the HOPE Commission staff to show our members that each of them can be as our tagline states “a beacon of what is possible”.

Today’s Tuesday Member spotlight is on Gerry Hairston. Gerry graduates from our program on October 26, 2020.

Gerry is a quiet spirit that is hard working, not just at work, but in prevailing over barriers that threatened to derail his progress through the program. In recognition of that perseverance he received a “Keep it Up” award in June and was also awarded the “Role Model of the Month” award for September.

Gerry landed a job with Masley’s Glove factory less than a month after coming to the HOPE Commission program and has been working there ever since. That is an amazing accomplishment given that Jerry’s last “official job” was at JW Walker in 1989.  Jerry was also able to get his own place a few months ago.  Gerry is also a skilled house painter that sometimes enables him to supplement his Masley’s income.  He also enjoys doing masonry work.

When asked what the HOPE Commission means to him, Gerry replied “The Wilmington HOPE Commission means help, guidance and drive. It gave me an opportunity to stay out of the streets and to better myself. Coming to the Wilmington HOPE Commission – my brain started working again. The program provided me with the tools to get to where he wanted to go such as learning how to use a computer to create a resume and to use email. The HOPE Commission is like family and they stay in contact with you. There are times when I wanted to give up, but due to my HOPE Commission family they would not let me.  I had to get out of myself in order to let the program work. I wouldn’t trade the HOPE Commission for nothing in the world.”

I asked Gerry what makes him happy and he said “money” with a smile.  He expanded upon that by saying he likes being able to live comfortably which money allows you to do.  He also enjoys spending time with his children and making sure his that his mother is ok. Gerry has four children, two grandchildren and 1 great grandchild and dearly loves them all.

Some fun facts about Gerry. Growing up he liked playing football (running back) and baseball where he played every position including shortstop which was his favorite position.  As he tells it, he had some serious athletic skills and played in the city leagues even as an adult.  He played until his ‘bad’ knees told him he had to stop.  Another fun fact is that Gerry has an identical twin brother and has the nickname “Twin”.

Gerry has overcome some difficult barriers in our program and in doing so embodies our tag line of “a beacon of what is possible….”  We are proud of the accomplishments of Gerry and look forward to his continuing successful reentry!

Today’s Member spotlight is on Darrell Stokes. Darrell Stokes is an alumnae of the Wilmington HOPE Commission having graduated from our program on April 11, 2020.  

Darrell is a thoughtful individual and a dependable worker.  He came to the program already employed by Goodwill. He obtained his flagging certification and then worked as a flagger. He is now working at Connections as a Direct Support Professional. 

Darrell is originally from Chester, Pa. but moved to Wilmington when he was in grade school.  He has 3 brothers and 3 sisters.   He is a comedian and enjoys making people laugh – even if he is the only one laughing at his own jokes. 😊  He can also eloquently speak from the heart. If you saw the Wilmington HOPE Commission graduation on our Facebook page on July 23, 2020 you would have seen (and can still see) Darrell in action.  

For fun Darrell likes to play video games, watch basketball and football and spend time with his family. “He lives for his children and no longer has any desire to do anything illegal”, he tells me.  Since he missed so much time with his daughters while incarcerated, he now really enjoys being an active part of their lives.  As a result, he has really become a homebody.

Darrell says that “the Wilmington HOPE Commission really pushed him” to change his ways.    That coupled with the fact that he was “tired of doing what he had been doing” he feels he now put him on the successful reentry track.  He considers “the HOPE Commission a second family”. He credits a special cousin that is the same age as him with being his biggest support system and being his best friend. Additionally, he credits his youngest brother for always being there for him.  He says they are both there to make sure he is accountable and does the right thing. This is the longest Darrell has been home and off of probation and he plans for this time to be his last!

Darrell has a plan for his future. He would like to own his own home and, pursue his college degree in Human Services.  He enjoys working with the youth and hopes to pursue that interest one day.

We look forward to Darrell’s pursuit of his Human Services degree. J Darrell is well on his way to successful reentry!

Today’s Tuesday Member spotlight is on Kimar Johnson. Kimar is scheduled to graduate from our program on October 26, 2020.  

One of the first things you notice about Kimar is his height.    And yes, one of his first loves was/is basketball.  He was able to parlay that love of basketball and his talent into a full 4 year basketball scholarship to Virginia Union.  He completed 2 years of college where he studied Computer Information Systems.  He was also part of a traveling professional ABA basketball team that enabled him to travel as far as Greece.  He even made the professional team of the Delaware 87ers.  I asked him what did he like about basketball and he said it was how it made him feel.  “It was a place he could always go to feel good.”

Another characteristic about Kimar is that he is always respectful and quietly personable.  He also likes to make others smile.

Employment is a one of the core goals of our members for graduation and Kimar was on top of it when he joined our program having a job at Fibre Processing Corporation. He later was able to obtain a job at Specialty Finishes Contractors doing carpentry which he enjoys.  He has already received a raise during his six months there which attests to his good work ethic.  He is also on his way to becoming a union member in the Delaware Local 1 through his employment.   One way you know you are doing a great job is when your employer wants to invest in you!  Well, that is the case for Kimar!  Beginning in October, Kimar begins an apprenticeship program for masonry.  It is a 3-5 yr program that will earn him union recognized certification in Masonry. 

Kimar has also been recognized by the Wilmington HOPE Commission with our “Keep it Up” award in June.  This is an encouragement award given to a member to recognize the work they have put into the program and that they are continuing on track with our program.  Kimar summarizes the Wilmington HOPE Commission as follows, it:  “1) gave him good leadership and counseling; 2) made him want to do better; 3) let him know he was not alone in handling issues that might arise; and 4) provided the ultimate motivation for him to do the right thing.”

I asked Kimar what caused him to want to change his life.  He said  “seeing others in prison with more serious crimes [hence a longer incarceration] made him want to get out and [do the right thing]”.  He also has two beautiful children that he wants to instill “gratefulness” in.  He describes them as being “both of his legs” to show how important they are to him.  Kimar is anxious to make up for lost time due to his justice involvement.  He is not yet 30 but he has plans  – in addition to the career path he has with Specialty Finishes Contractors he also has started a property maintenance business called Kay’s Property Maintenance whose tag line is “My Job is Too Make Your Property Look Good”.  If you can use his maintenance services, please let him know! J

Kimar has gone through our program demonstrating a willingness to change his life.  We are proud of the accomplishments of Kimar and look forward to his successful reentry!

Today’s Tuesday Member spotlight is on Hakeem Coates. Hakeem is scheduled to graduate from our program on October 26, 2020.

Hakeem is an intelligent young man with a calm disposition and the ability to excel in whatever he puts his mind to. In talking with Hakeem, I told him that he has such a rich story that one would need to do a series rather than a single spotlight to cover it all!  

What struck me about Hakeem, is that he loves to learn. He was a part of the Inside/Out College Course Program at Howard R Young CI. This program brings together justice involved individuals and students from the University of Delaware (UD) to learn and exchange ideas. From each cohort, one scholarship is given to a justice-involved individual to pursue a degree at UD.  Hakeem was the scholarship recipient in his cohort!  Through the Inside/Out program Hakeem met several mentors – Drs. Ben Fleury-Steiner and Yassar Payne from UD and Dr. Chen from Christiana Care who are helping him achieve some of his educational aspirations. Hakeem plans to complete his degree in Sociology and obtain an associate’s degree in Art, both from UD. Hakeem loves data collection and will be working in Dr. Payne’s Participatory Action Research (PAR) project collecting data relative to 16-24 year olds that are victims of violence.

Before coming to the HOPE Commission program Hakeem had an internship with the Laffey McHugh Foundation. He provided his analysis, as a ‘city citizen’, to a variety of community organization programs that included areas of improvement and sustainability. This “consulting” work required a lot of field work and research on Hakeem’s part to understand the mission and vision of a variety of community providers that received funding from the foundation and who they served.

Currently Hakeem is working at Second Chances Farm – hydrophonic farming and with Game Changers –  an advocacy/community activism program that holds legislation/legislators accountable.

At 6’ 4, you would be surprised to know that his nickname from childhood is “Tink”.  Hakeem loves words and is a gifted lyricist that is known in the battle rap circuit as “Tink tha Demon”.  Tink tha Demon has been ‘battling’ since January 5, 2014.  He quickly moved from amateur to professional battle rapping in 6 months which, as he told me, is virtually unheard of! [In case you didn’t know, like me, it normally takes 2-3 yrs to reach that level!]  The interesting part is that Hakeem only began battle rapping to get his rap music heard, but now his interest is reversed – he loves battle rapping and its creative process.  Being the insightful young man he is, he recounted how ‘battle rapping’ has taught him a valuable life lesson.  He admits he “got too cocky” and thought he didn’t need to follow his normal preparation process when battling a less seasoned opponent – He hasn’t made that mistake again!  His battle rap prowess has enabled him to pursue something else he enjoys which is travel.  He has been to numerous cities/states as well as to the countries of Africa, Kenya, and Zaire.  Did I mention, he has even created a rap for the Wilmington HOPE Commission which is on our Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/HopeCommission/videos/368158460995346/

Additionally, Hakeem has developed a ‘Focus on the Lens’ project that is an educational battle rap program for youth. It is a way for them to learn through battle rap.  Participants select who they will represent for example – Rosa Parks vs. Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X in which they have to research both individuals to be able to “battle rap”.  What a great idea!

Another fun fact about Hakeem is his interest is paranormal activity.  He has witnessed some of these activities first hand!

When asked what the Wilmington HOPE Commission means to him he responds: “My experience at the HOPE Commission – Achievement Center has been beyond valuable as well as resourceful in my process of reentering society in a positive manner. [It has taught me that focusing on the positive things in my life increases my chances when it comes to success and playing my part in the reduction of recidivism.  The staff is beyond helpful in our process of change and strive on a day to day basis to provide us with not only motivation but the necessary tools it takes to achieve our goals and accomplish things from a positive perspective.”

One of the inspirational sayings on my office white board is “ Do not let your past, prevent your future possibilities.”  Hakeem has definitely taken those words to heart.  We are proud of the accomplishments of Hakeem and look forward to his successful reentry!