A Manchester church’s effort to mentor released state prisoners has caught the attention of other organizations devoted to helping the former inmates adjust to life outside a cell block.

Prison Chaplaincy Corps, a mentoring program launched last year by the Rev. Stan Moody, pastor of the Meeting House Church, is collaborating with National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the NAACP and other social service agencies in hopes of reaching a wider audience of volunteers.

“We really need a state-wide resource,” said Bob Tiner, director of criminal justice programs for NAMI Maine. “Our goal is to provide pro-social role models those who may be lacking those in their lives.”

Tiner said the goal is to create a clearinghouse and include as many people as possible, regardless of religious beliefs.

Moody, who last fall organized the first mentor training session, said the demand for mentors has outpaced the number of volunteers willing to work with former inmates. Last fall’s workshop, held at Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield, attracted 20 trainees from six counties to take part in the two-day school.

Moody is convinced the number of volunteers will grow as people learn about mentoring opportunities.

“People are interested in doing this,” he said. “They just don’t know how to get it done. We want to make the process as easy as possible.”

The next training session is scheduled for April 13 and 14 at Husson University in Bangor. Tiner said NAMI is getting involved with that session in hopes of training mentors to work with inmates exiting from the Criminogenic Addiction and Recovery Academy, known as CARA, at the Kennebec County jail. The CARA program is geared toward inmates whose criminal activity is spurred by drug addictions.

Tiner said a stable group of mentors are needed across the state because inmates are accepted into CARA from jails statewide, particularly now that the demand is growing. CARA graduates have viewed requesting a mentor as a sign of weakness, Tiner said.

“The relationship needs to be voluntary to work,” he said.

But the graduates’ view of mentoring is changing, Tiner said.

“Now, demand is up,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of pro-social adult role models stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, what can we do?'”

Tiner asked Moody and Prison Chaplaincy Corps to fill the gap. Moody said he welcomes the challenge, even as “the appeal far exceeds our present ability.”

He hopes to train scores of both men and women from diverse religious backgrounds over the next couple of years. Whether the Chaplaincy Corps can keep pace with demand remains to be seen.

State corrections officials are keeping an eye on the CARA program as a test case, Moody said. The program might one day become a fixture at the Maine State Prison.

Moody said two-thirds of those released from jail or prison who commit new crimes do so within the first six months. Providing mentors to those individuals can have a dramatic impact on recidivism rates, he said. A weekly phone call or cup of coffee with a mentor can change a person’s life, Moody said.

“The first six months are critical,” he said. “A lot of times it’s just a matter of knowing someone on the outside has an interest.”

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