Shawntelle Fisher became a mother at 15, and the pressures of caring for a child at such a young age caught up with her. She started rebelling, and by the age of 17 she was incarcerated. For the next 20 years, she was in and out of prison, facing many challenges common to individuals who were formerly incarcerated and who lack support for transitioning back into society. But today she is the Executive Director of a successful and growing nonprofit, and she is also an honors graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a double-master’s in social work and divinity.
“At some point, I finally decided I had enough,” Fisher says. “During my last jail term, I began volunteering in the prison tutoring program, and I became determined to enroll in college. That was the beginning of a new path.”
Now, Fisher helps other individuals struggling with incarceration and transition through her St. Louis-based nonprofit, The SoulFisher Ministries. Her mission: To respond to the needs of youth with incarcerated parents, and to promote restorative justice for those currently and formerly incarcerated. SoulFisher’s programming addresses a range of both social/emotional needs as well as technical/academic skill-building.
What began as a business plan in a college course in 2012 is now a burgeoning nonprofit with eight full-time staff, 12 part-time staff, four AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, and several practicum students from nearby universities. And just last month, the U.S Department of Justice granted SoulFisher $500,000 to provide up to 24 months of supportive housing, transition services, and comprehensive case management to assist women returning to society.
With this rapid growth, SoulFisher began running out of space in its 900-square-foot leased office. But several banks turned them down for a loan on a larger space – until they found IFF.
“IFF believed in our organization and the work that we do and supported us throughout the entire process,” Fisher said. “I never purchased a building before, and IFF’s Stephen Westbrooks walked me step-by-step throughout the process so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed.”
The five-year-old SoulFisher organization will receive a $225,000 loan from IFF to help cover the costs of acquiring and rehabbing a 6,400-square-foot building. The larger space will include administrative offices, staff training space, and a new computer lab to help clients gain skills, create resumes, and search for employment.
The SoulFisher Ministries are set to move into their newly renovated building this November and are now well positioned to continue walking side-by-side with the women and children affected by incarceration in St. Louis.