She turned her life around. Now she's helping former prisoners do the same.

Kim Burkhardt was once a troubled teenager headed straight toward incarceration. But when she did end up in jail, it wasn’t as an inmate.

Instead, she was there as a college student, volunteering at prisons.

But she couldn’t have gotten there alone. As a teenager in the early 1990s, she was lucky to have gotten the right support to get her back on track. And that’s exactly why Burkhardt now focuses on prison reentry — helping give people who have been incarcerated a second chance.


Photo by Matt Popovich/Unsplash.

Today, her commitment is a huge one: Burkhardt is executive director of the National Network of Prison Nonprofits (NC4RSO), an umbrella coalition connecting multiple prison nonprofits from around the country.

That wasn’t always her plan, though.

In 2001, Burkhardt finished a master's degree in Business Administration from Regis University with an entirely different goal: working as a market research consultant. And for a while, she was self-employed, running a market research business.

Image via Kim Burkhardt, used with permission.

But during that time, she never stopped volunteering at jails and prisons. After 13 years of doing do, she had a realization: There was no national network to connect prison nonprofits to one another.

“You know when you get an idea in your head and it just won’t go away?” she says. This was one of those ideas.

And after the economy crashed in 2008 and her business went down with it, she put her MBA skills to good use and pursued her passion project: NC4RSO.

Founded in 2010, NC4RSO helps volunteer-led prison programs coordinate their efforts and share resources.

Say you want to volunteer in a prison program in Seattle. You can get in touch with NC4RSO, and they can set you up with a member organization like Freedom Project, which focuses on nonviolent communication for prisoners.

Or, say two different member organizations are working on performing arts in prison, like Prison Performing Arts in Missouri. NC4RSO can help coordinate a sharing of resources and ideas.

NC4RSO also conducts research that demonstrates the vital need for these programs. For example, their 2011 prison mentoring study showed that 100% of participants who stayed out of prison had mentoring figures to guide them.

Why focus on prison reentry? The numbers, listed on NC4RSO’s website, speak for themselves. The United States has an enormous incarceration level, with only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world's prison population. 95% of people in jail will be released, and the struggles they face finding employment affect their entire communities.

Photo by Christian Bardenhorst/Unsplash.

At the heart of the nonprofit, though, are the phenomenal organizations it helps to support.

28 organizations from 11 different states have joined NC4RSO since its inception. The way Burkhardt sees it, they’re the ones doing the work, while she and her team provide support.

But, thanks to her efforts, those hard-working member groups are also gaining a public voice and working with more support behind them, so it goes both ways.

Though she never expected to use her master's degree from Regis University for this purpose, she’s really glad to have developed her project management and communication skills.

Earning her graduate degree also gave her confidence, which undoubtedly informs her fearless approach to this work.

Her story is a perfect example of how life can take you in unexpected directions. On this path, she’s helping prisoners and former prisoners whose humanity is forgotten by the rest of the world too often.

Image via iStock.

Burkhardt said that a prison chaplain once summed up NC4RSO’s impact perfectly, telling a group of volunteers, “You humanize this place.”

That alone, Burkhardt explains, is a vital part of building resiliency among people who return to society with so much vulnerability.

Burkhardt and other prison volunteers have witnessed that impact time and time again. She remembers one woman who returned to jail as an inmate several years after they first met.

The woman was surprised to see her again.

“You’re still here,” she said. “Oh ... somebody cares.”

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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