The Power of a Helping Hand

“EDUCATION IS THE GREAT ENGINE OF PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT” -activist and peacebuilder Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s idea is embodied by UB, an institution dedicated to helping students and community members create meaningful personal and professional futures while giving back and making a difference.

We highlight two programs that empower people in challenging circumstances. By providing resources and support, these initiatives give participants tools to choose their next steps. After all, as Mandela also noted, “It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”


When UB undergraduate Marcus Lilly, 36, came to campus, he had some of the first-day jitters that most students experience. But Lilly brought with him the confidence that comes from being a veteran student: For more than a year, he had been attending UB classes at the Jessup Correctional Institution through the University’s Second Chance College Program.

“Prison can make you feel like an outcast,” Lilly says. “The program helped me believe I belonged in
a classroom.”

A 2016 Experimental Sites Initiative of the United States Department of Education’s Pell Grant program, Second Chance provides post-secondary education to incarcerated students. Research shows that those who participate in educational programs while incarcerated have a significantly better chance of successfully transitioning into society and finding employment, as well as lower rates of recidivism.

“Education changes your worldview and mindset. You feel empowered in many areas: as a parent, a worker, a community leader.” – MARCUS LILLY

LEFT TO RIGHT: Andrea Cantora, Latonya Epps, and Marcus Lilly. (photo by Chris Hartlove)

“Education changes your worldview and mindset,” says Lilly, a Human Services Administration major and Helen P. Denit honors scholar at UB. “You feel empowered in many areas: as a parent, a worker, a community leader.”

Expanding educational access to Second Chance students is extremely rewarding, says Andrea Cantora, director of the program and associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice. “These are some of the most motivated students I have ever worked with,” Cantora says. “Seeing their love for learning and how they strive to excel is inspiring. If we weren’t providing this program they would still be trying to educate themselves.”

During the fall semester of 2018, 45 men at Jessup, who range in age from early 20s to 60-plus, are completing coursework towards a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services Administration degree. Non-students can also participate in a mentorship and tutoring program developed by UB faculty and staff. “Incarcerated men who are active leaders and role models in the prison community—and who are strongly committed to helping their peers succeed—attend classes with students and help them with their studies,” explains Cantora.

The program also provides support as the men return home and begin attending classes. Second Chance Reentry Coordinator Latonya Epps, B.S. ’16, says the transition period for former inmates is complicated. “It can seem overwhelming,” she explains, noting that many of the men are simultaneously searching for jobs, beginning classes, and updating identification and records. “Even dealing with technology is a challenge—most have had limited access to laptops and no internet use, and may need updated skills to submit paperwork and job applications online.”

Epps is available to help with everything from providing transportation for job interviews to lending a listening ear. But the most gratifying part of her job, she says, is “welcoming the students to campus—being able to see their excitement, give them a hug and tell them we’re glad to have them here.”

Lilly is one of the first Second Chance students who has transitioned to UB. But, Cantora says, more than 40 will be eligible for release in the next several years. “We are already anticipating how we can increase support services and involve some of the men who are already on campus,” she says.

In addition to his UB studies, Lilly works at Concerted Care Group supporting individuals who are dealing with substance abuse and addiction. “What drives me is to see people do better,” he says. And, he continues, having opportunities to help others, especially at-risk youth, is important to him: “I feel I owe that to the guys still inside, who are dedicated to changing their lives.”



Fewer than 20 years ago, support services for victims of crime were almost nonexistent. But now an ever-growing range of professionals in a variety of fields are dedicated to helping them and their families deal with the effects of crime and its aftermath.

For over fifteen years the Roper Victim Assistance Academy of Maryland (RVAAM) has been a catalyst in the shift toward more comprehensive services and protections. Based at UB, RVAAM sponsors an annual five-day residential training program and certification for service providers, conducts regional workshops and events throughout the year, and facilitates a large alumni network. The Academy is named in honor of Stephanie Roper, who was killed in 1982, and her parents, who were early and important advocates for victims and their families.

Director Debra Stanley says that the RVAAM and similar organizations help to transform the landscape for victims and those who assist them. “Victim advocacy has developed primarily through grassroots efforts, and academically-based training and certification have helped to legitimize the field,” she says. A professor in the School of Criminal Justice, Stanley has conducted extensive research in victimology and other areas, and also developed substance abuse treatment and violence-prevention programs for high-risk youth and criminal justice populations.

“Our goal is to give service providers tools to meet people where they are and empower them in whatever way is right for them.” – DEBRA STANLEY

Debra Stanley (photo by JJ Chrystal)

RVAAM attendees include victim service professionals, social workers, victim advocates, teachers, counselors, clinicians and criminal justice professionals, and, adds Stanley, “there are always some UB students in the group.” The curriculum is focused on the state of Maryland, although other states do recognize RVAAM certification.

“We cover current policies and procedures, legislation, best practices and other developments in victim services and victim’s rights,” Stanley explains. In addition to a 500-page manual of resources that is updated yearly, the program incorporates role playing, art therapy, case studies and other hands-on techniques that involve participants.

Staying on site at facilities such as Bon Secours Conference Center in Mariottsville, Maryland (the site of the summer 2018 training) is key to the program’s effectiveness, says Suzy Boisclair. Boisclair, who is the Supervisor of the Victim Services Unit of the Frederick Police Department in Maryland, attended the Academy in 2012. “The residential format is so valuable,” she says. “It allows you to go into depth with a variety of key topics, and build relationships and professional ties.

You learn about yourself, too,” she continues, noting that victim support work is challenging and can be depleting. “Self-awareness, self-care and connecting with others in the field is critical—you form bonds that continue long after the program is over.”

In addition to staying involved with the alumni network, Boisclair has also attended RVAAM regional workshops, which are often developed in response to requests for particular types of information. “The local trainings are very helpful because the needs we’re dealing with at a particular time in Frederick may be different from the needs of victim services providers in other regions of Maryland,” she says.

Rosemary Raiman, who recently retired from her position as coordinator of the domestic violence branch of the Charles County State’s Attorney’s office, attended the training in 2004. “When I began advocacy work 24 years ago, we were looking for credentials of some kind, and couldn’t find them,” she says. “Roper Academy was a blessing, giving us greater professional credibility as well as a broader knowledge of what’s available for those we serve.”

This year Raiman’s granddaughter Emily, a student at the University of Maryland, attended RVAAM training. “Emily is in the criminal justice program and has been involved in many events with me over the years,” she explains. “Seeing her passion for this work and watching her graduate from the Academy fourteen years after I did was very special.”

The impact from a crime is different for everyone, Stanley says. “Our goal is to give service providers tools to meet people where they are and empower them in whatever way is right for them.”

Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

One thought on “The Power of a Helping Hand”

  1. This is a great story! While I was never incarcerated, an intervention changed my life and the lives of my children. My experience at U of B was also a big part of the change in my life. In 1971, I was inspired by a man who worked for IBM who came to my underprivileged high school in Prince Georges County, Maryland . I followed him outside and asked him how I could be like him? He asked what I was doing to prepare for college. I let him know I already had a scholarship to a Junior College in Baltimore. He said “well young man IBM only accepts applicants with at least a 4 year degree and IBM only takes the best candidates.” That advice changed my goals and my life. I completed my AA degree in a year and finished U of B in 18 months. A set of circumstances led to an interview with IBM and I was selected for a marketing rep position. Back then they paid significantly above average salaries and my first year was centered around training. I worked for them for four years and that experienced changed the trajectory of my life. I had a variety of successful positions including the food industry, but my greatest success was in the cable television industry. Over 18 years, I led the divisions of several cable companies in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, San Antonio and Southern and Northern California. For the past 11 years I have led a Nonprofit in San Antonio that provides a suite of services to help homeless individuals and homeless families. In particular I wanted to help change the trajectory of homeless children. Sometimes all we need is a chance to show what we can do!

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