Madison Hurst ’21 is carrying on her family tradition: helping those in need.
It was her grandparents’ assistance to incarcerated people that inspired Hurst’s interest in the Soteria Community Development Corporation. She volunteered for the organization for her sophomore project through the Shucker Leadership Institute and wrote grants that generated more than $130,000 for Soteria.
The purpose of the grants was to fund salaries for a chief operating officer and a woodshop foreman. While a COO is vital for the day-to-day operations, such as managing transitional housing for men returning to society or for low-income families, the woodshop foreman will oversee “Soteria at Work,” the organization’s job-training program, in which men deconstruct old buildings and use the wood to build tables, doors, clocks and other products. The goal is to make the transition process easier for men returning to society and seeking a job.
To date, Hurst has raised $132,500 in grant money from The Jolley Foundation, Sisters of Charity and The Daniel Mickel Foundation.
Hurst, along with five other second-year Shucker Fellows, worked to push forward the mission of Soteria, which provides “low-income families with resources and training to help them reach a place of self-sufficiency.” Each year, second-year students in the Shucker Leadership Institute partner with a community organization with the goal of effecting lasting change.
Soteria’s programs get results. Only four percent of men who participated in Soteria’s programs in the past five years returned to prison, compared to the 23.7 percent overall rate recorded by the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
While Madison’s academic interests lie in the medical field, growing up in her grandfather’s church gave her a “heartfelt passion” for people returning to society from prison. Her grandfather ministered numerous people in prison who then joined his church after their release. This, along with learning about her grandmother’s work counseling pregnant women in prison, drew Hurst to Soteria.
Meanwhile, Jerry Blassingame, the organizations’ executive director, is ramping up his advocacy work: pushing for legislation, raising awareness of Soteria’s work and fundraising for supplies and operations.
But Blassingame and Soteria need more staff members, and that’s where Madison’s grant-writing work will help.
“I think I learned a lot more about a population that I don’t really interact with. I don’t think I fully understood the scope of how much (Soteria) really impacts one person’s life, but also the family, the community and the society in general,” she said.
Hurst also learned how to communicate with people with different life experiences, deepening her commitment to Soteria’s mission.
“I think a lot of people, when they hear what I’m doing, they’re kind of confused. Why would I want to help these people that made these decisions? Well, if people judged me on my worst mistakes, I would never be where I am,” she said. “I just didn’t make a mistake that was illegal. I think that people really need to be more sympathetic in that sense.”
At the end of the school year, Madison got to celebrate with the people who inspired her to serve at Soteria in the first place — her grandparents. When they visited Furman, she brought them to Soteria to show them all the work that the organization does and introduced them to Jerry Blassingame, who now has a strong foundation of resources to better serve the men in his programs.