Grassroots group helps ex-criminals get back on their feet - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Grassroots group helps ex-criminals get back on their feet

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

One woman is to thank for helping thousands of ex-criminals get back on their feet. A unique program in Nashville is helping those offenders find jobs, go to school and start a new chapter in their lives.

The H.U.G.G.S. program, which stands for Humility, Understanding, God, Grace, Spiritual, Strength, began as a vision 11 years ago while executive director and founder Sherri Jackson sat in a jail cell. She's a seven-time felony offender who turned her life around.

"I was going back and forth to jail and I knew that had to be a better way," Jackson said.

So far the non-profit has helped more than 3,000 ex-offenders get everything from jobs to transitional housing. They are also learning functional, life and social skills.

"There's no one out there to help us get back into society the right way. We here at H.U.G.G.S. want to be a leading re-entry program for the ex-offender," Jackson said.

LaQuinta Avery, 24, recently started the program. She got busted for being in the car with her ex-boyfriend who was in possession of marijuana. H.U.G.G.S. case workers helped her enroll into American International University Online.

"I do not want to go back down that road," Avery said. "I just want to stay focused on school, and my life, and most importantly my life."

And Terri White-Greer is wrapping up her first full week of work at her new job cleaning rooms at a local hotel, but she's also cleaning up her life.

"It has also helped me balance my life, because my life was unmanageable," White-Greer said.

Greer is an ex-offender who had old drugs, theft, and forgery charges on her criminal record. However, after enrolling in the H.U.G.G.S. program, she is leaving the past behind.

"It makes a difference to have someone give you a second chance and give you support and give you another shot at life," she said.

The organization has also been giving a 10-year rent free building on Jefferson Street. The plan is to open a bakery where ex-offenders will learn the art of baking for six months to make them more employable. But donations are needed to renovate the aging building.

H.U.G.G.S. is also hoping to start a janitorial business for ex-offenders. They have already purchased the needed equipment and are just looking for businesses who will give them a chance.

"There are going to be a lot of doors closed. There are going to be a lot of doors closed, more people saying 'no' than 'yes,'" White-Greer said. "But you have to persevere through it and be determined."

H.U.G.G.S. has kicked off its $1 campaign, as volunteers ask people to donate at least $1.

You can do so by clicking on the donate button at http://www.huggstn.org. You could also mail a donation to H.U.G.G.S. Inc. at 3250 Dickerson Pike Suite 211, Nashville or reach them by phone at 615-262-0063.

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