Employee Shirley Briggeman, left, shares a laugh with Ron and Cathy Tijerina. The Tijerinas are leasing the former Hope School in Henry County for the Ridge Project, which tries to help prison inmates and their families grow together and gain skills.
McCLURE, Ohio — An idea that grew from a young woman’s need for support when her husband was in prison and morphed into a nationally recognized nonprofit group has continued its momentum.
The Ridge Project has moved from Defiance into the former Hope School on State Rt. 65 south of McClure, its 42-member staff and array of services multiplying almost daily.
The cornerstone of its programming is an innovative 36-week program for fathers in prison that helps them with communication, character development, relationship stability, and parenting. Some 4,300 inmates are enrolled in the Keeping Families and Inmates Together in Harmony — Keeping FAITH — in 16 prisons in Ohio.
As the lead partner and grant administrator of the Ohio Abstinence Education Program, the Ridge Project also works on empowering teens and, most recently, it began job training programs both for prison inmates and low-income adults as well as a staffing service that trains and places people in jobs.
The staffing service “aligns really well with what we do because we’re trying to transform families, bring stability to families,” said Cathy Tijerina, who is co-executive director of the Ridge Project with her husband, Ron. “What we do is we provide work-force ethics and help people become employable and then take some of the risk off employers that give them a shot. We place employees with companies with the goal of making the company better, which makes the family better, which makes the community better and stronger.”
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Ridge Project is to hold a grand opening at its new location, with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m.
Ron Tijerina said the plan is to purchase the building and five acres, which it is leasing from the Henry County commissioners, within a year.
Henry County Commissioner Bob Hastedt said he can’t think of a better use for the former school, which once housed classrooms for children with developmental disabilities and, until last year, preschool classes for disabled youngsters.
“The three of us truly feel that their project, that what they do is good,” Mr. Hastedt said of the Ridge Project. “It is very impressive No. 1 how they started the whole thing and how they got it to this point and what their plans are. It’s Christian-based, and that’s how they do their business.
“No. 2, the ideas that these people have — I think it’s a wonderful thing they do because in the end, when we put people in prison, that costs us a lot of money. We want to keep these people out and, more important than that, get them back with their families.”
Mrs. Tijerina said the Ridge Project plans to announce a new job-training initiative on Friday.
Ron and Cathy Tijerina show off the former Hope School gym, which is being painted. They plan to make the gym available for family events and Special Olympics as well as the Ridge Project's programs.
It currently is training minimum-security inmates at Richland and Pickaway Correctional Institutions to drive trucks and earn commercial drivers’ licenses. In another program started this year, they work with Northwest State Community College to offer welder training to low-income individuals and those recently released from prison.
The Tijerinas know that when a person is released from prison, his or her chances of staying out of trouble depend upon a solid relationship with their family and a job that will allow them to support a family. “The whole idea is to move them into a place of stability,” Mrs. Tijerina said.
Her husband, who was released from prison in 2006 after serving 15 years for rape, said the idea is to change the mind-set.
Mrs. Tijerina said that long-term, she hopes the staffing service and other training programs the Ridge Project has developed will enable it to produce income apart from the federal grants that currently make up of 90 percent of its revenue.
The Tijerinas have planned the 37,000-square-foot school building to accommodate its growth. One of their favorite parts: the gymnasium that can be used for family events and gatherings as well as a locale for Special Olympics as it was traditionally used.
“We talked about this building six years ago, but not knowing it was this building,” Ron Tijerina said. “This has everything on our wish list.”
Contact Jennifer Feehan at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6129.
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