The gift of second chances: Leadership Lake Cumberland Class of 2021 raises $12K for local inmate re-entry program

Class also funds the purchase of translation devices for local schools

SOMERSET, KENTUCKY (November 10, 2023) — The Leadership Lake Cumberland (LLC) Class of 2021 and a host of local sponsors are giving the gift of second chances this holiday season.

Class members presented a $12,000 check to Pulaski County Jailer Anthony McCollum Oct. 20 to support the jail’s CRITICAL (Comprehensive Rehabilitation of Inmates Transforming Individuals, Community and Livelihoods) program, a workforce development initiative that helps incarcerated men and women gain a new start on life.

Inmates who participate in the CRITICAL program receive technical and soft skills training, allowing them to earn a welding certificate, 30 days off time served, a job and money that will provide them with a foundation for success upon release. The program is a partnership between the Pulaski County Detention Center, the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA), Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, the Lake Cumberland Area Development District, Somerset Community College, and several other local organizations.

CRITICAL has graduated more than a dozen inmates in Somerset-Pulaski County, who are now productive members of society with hope for the future. The Class of 2021 donation provides support for another 12 inmates to participate.

McCollum thanked the class and sponsors for supporting this initiative, which is being hailed across the state as a model for inmate re-entry. McCollum, Deputy Michelle Bramble (an LLC Class of 2021 graduate) and SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler recently testified before the Kentucky General Assembly Jail & Corrections Reform Task Force in Frankfort about the program’s success.

“These inmates are not just getting a welding certificate,” McCollum said. “They’re learning how to interview, communicate, solve problems, manage money and what it means to have a strong work ethic. The education is invaluable, and the way it is transforming lives is incredible to watch. I am so grateful to the Leadership Lake Cumberland Class of 2021 and these community sponsors for seeing the value in and helping us continue this important program. It takes all of us working together to make a difference and I am proud to say we are making one right here in the Pulaski County Detention Center.”

Each LLC class is challenged to complete a community service project upon graduation. Class of ‘21 member Jeff Wesley, principal of Somerset High School, led this class’s fundraising effort.

“Our first idea was a tourism-based project that focused on showcasing our community through an immersive experience,” Wesley said. “It was a great idea but there were significant roadblocks to its success. So we came back to the table and changed our focus. How could we help support the people who are working day-in and day-out to make Somerset and Pulaski County a better place, who have immediate needs we can help fulfill? By raising money for CRITICAL and for our local schools, we’re still showcasing our community, but from a deeper place — one of dedication to helping others succeed.”

In their fundraising outreach, class members asked businesses if they would sponsor an inmate for $1,000 to complete the CRITICAL program as well as support technology that will help local educators better communicate with incoming students and families who are not fluent in English. In addition to sponsoring 12 inmates, the class’s efforts raised enough money for Somerset Independent and Pulaski County school districts to purchase translation devices.

“We have an influx of non-English speaking families moving into Somerset and Pulaski County,” Wesley said. “We want to serve them well and give our best to these students, but it can be difficult when we don’t understand one another. Both districts are grateful for the ability to purchase these devices, which help make everyone feel comfortable and make communication more effective.”

Leadership Lake Cumberland is a nine-month program facilitated by the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. The program identifies individuals with the potential for leadership and a commitment to the community. Participants learn about leadership, community structure and operation during the program, and through its annual capstone project, Chamber Executive Director Bobby Clue said the goal is for each class to make their mark on Somerset-Pulaski County.

“Leadership Lake Cumberland graduates have had a significant impact on their community and region through these projects,” Clue said. “The Class of 2021 focused on two very important needs that will advance education and workforce in Somerset and Pulaski County and did an amazing job rallying local businesses around these causes. I am proud of their dedication to seeing this through and can’t wait to celebrate the next graduating class of CRITICAL inmates who are getting a second chance at life with the help of our Leadership program and these supporting businesses.”