When Dr. Sarah Scarbrough started pursuing her masters in Criminal Justice and Public Policy, she didn’t have the same mindset she does today.
“I had a more narrow view of criminal justice,” says Sarah. “But through all my research for my PhD, and getting to know the humans behind bars -- that’s what inspired me.”
Sarah began her career as the Program Director for the Richmond City Justice Center in 2013. During her four years there, she was continuously confronted with the same problem: the seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing those exiting incarceration in Richmond.
Those obstacles included things like access to cell phones or bus tickets, hindering people’s ability to apply for jobs, as well as access to safe and stable housing, resulting in homelessness and desperation, and almost guaranteeing the continued cycle of addiction and incarceration.
Inspired to create change and reduce negative stigmas and stereotypes, Sarah opened a recovery house for men in Richmond. The REAL House, which stands for Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles, provides a structured and safe environment for up to nine men.
“Still, we knew the house was just the first step, as it was not near enough. There were many others in dire need of assistance,” says Sarah.
As such, in 2017 Sarah created REAL Life Community Center. The nonprofit seeks to assist individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, homelessness, or who are battling addiction.
“The unique attribute of the Community Center is that we provide our clients with a path to thriving, not just recovery. It is the idea of recovering to something greater than what was lost,” says Sarah.
The Community Center achieves this goal by helping members cultivate stronger family relationships, gain meaningful employment, and improve personal interaction skills, all while building upon a foundation of faith. Additionally, the center provides case management, an expectant mother program, mental health services, job preparation and placement, transportation assistance, substance use disorder support, educational opportunities, and more.
In its first year, the 5,000 square-foot building located at 406 East Main Street in Richmond served 411 people.
“We've seen our fair share of failure,” says Sarah, “people who just couldn't overcome their circumstance. But we have also seen tremendous success. We’ve seen miracles -- people that ‘never would make it’ and do. When you see families reunite, or a dad being a dad for the first time -- that's the motivation to keep going.”
When asked why she remains so passionate about the cause, Sarah instead poses a question: “If we can provide an intervention to help adults overcome adversities, can you imagine the generational change?”
To learn about ways to get involved with REAL LIFE and its programs, click here.