Clearwater Council Member Honored for Supporting Parolees
Fresh Start provide mentors for people in Pinellas County who are on probation.
CLEARWATER – Dr. Bob Cundiff received the annual “Beacon of Light” award from Fresh Start for his support of the charitable organization’s mentoring program for juveniles and adults on probation.
The awards banquet took place Tuesday (March 20) at the Sheraton Sand Key on Clearwater Beach.
Cundiff, a longtime professor at St. Petersburg College and former professor at Clearwater Christian College, serves on the five-member Clearwater City Council. When he learned of Fresh Start’s mission, he volunteered.
“The first 90 days after release is a critical time for someone who’s served a sentence,” said Chaplain Herb Schluderberg, the banquet emcee who helped launch Fresh Start nine years ago. “If he or she doesn’t have a support system right away to help secure housing, food and a job, the temptation is strong to return to a life of crime.”
Schluderberg, who for 10 years volunteered his services at Chicago’s Cook County Jail, witnessed firsthand the high percentage of recidivism and decided to do something about it once he retired. Cundiff signed on to help when learning of Fresh Start’s 70 percent record of success.
“With most probation officers overworked, it’s oftentimes difficult to provide deep individualized support, and that’s where Fresh Start can step into the picture,” Cundiff said.
Fresh Start provides a faith-based mentor who’s assigned an ex-offender immediately after his or her incarceration. They spend an hour together each week for 12 weeks to get pointed in the right direction. Many of those relationships continue as friendships even after the program concludes.
Several young adults spoke to the large audience at the banquet about the critical difference Fresh Start has made in their lives.
“You have no idea how important it was for someone to spend time with me and to understand my circumstances,” said a 29-year-old woman who’d spent 8 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence in state prison. “Everyone else — my parents, my boyfriend, even my parole officer — couldn’t get past their anger over what I’d done. Fresh Start provided that support just when I thought I’d actually be better off returning to prison.”
The raw emotion from the testimonials left many in the audience teary-eyed. And that included Cundiff.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to lift up people who made a bad decision years ago and now want to return to society in a productive way,” he said.
For information about Fresh Start and how to become a mentor, go to freshstartmentorship.com or call (727) 458-0216.
Photo courtesy of Fresh Start.
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