YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – In continuing our conversations with organizations and individuals in the community that are making a difference and dealing in-depth with the issue of violence in our community, Community Affairs Coordinator Dee Crawford is talking with Dionne Dowdy-Lacey, executive director of United Returning Citizens (URC).

URC is a non-profit corporation that helps those leaving incarceration but also the community as a whole with job search and training, life and financial literacy skills and transitional, stable housing just to name a few services.

Dowdy-Lacey said that bringing the program to Youngstown was personal for her. Her husband was incarcerated.

“I didn’t actually start the program. His name is Wayne Higgins. He started it and I did the women’s part. And then he went on to something else and I just continued it. And we did it because there are so many people that are connected to me or loved ones that were being incarcerated or were affected by incarceration, myself included. My husband was incarcerated and when I went to look for resources to support myself because at that time I was a domestic engineer, there weren’t too many. And so when this was introduced to me, it was passed and I was passionate enough to go full throttle with it,” she said.

URC has been up and running for eight years. It’s funded by grants and other funding.

“We do have grants that support us, but our main goal is to be a social enterprise. We have United Returning Citizens Lawn Care. We have URC Grows. These are businesses that we have that are growing. So we hope to be able to support ourselves from that because every client that I have is different. They have a different need, they have a different barrier. And sometimes that doesn’t equate with the goals or the mission of grants. And so we have to move differently and we have to do things differently. And so that’s why we sort of lean to the social enterprise within the businesses,” Dowdy-Lacey said.

An intake specialist assesses the needs of clients and comes up with a plan at URC.

“We have a housing director, we have a community engagement that kind of like boots on the ground, they kind of hear what the need is from returning citizens and people that are in the streets, because that’s basically where they come from. And then we use our resources and our partnerships, they help with the barriers or the goals or the action plans that we have for our clients,” Dowdy-Lacey said.

They are helping 300 people right now. While that number seems high, Dowdy-Lacey said it’s not in the larger landscape of what they do.

“I wouldn’t say it was high, but it’s a large number for our community,” she said. “70%, 72% are African American and 23% others.”