Hartford Reentry Program Manager Leads with Empathy

by | Mar 22, 2023

Virginia Lewis started her career at Community Partners in Action (CPA) in the 1990s as a Substance Abuse Counselor, working with people with HIV/AIDS. Virge previously struggled with her own addictions, so it was a natural fit that allowed her to help others based on her lived experience.

Now in her twenty-fifth year at CPA, Virge is the Program Manager of the Greater Hartford Reentry Welcome Center where she manages a team of case managers who help individuals reintegrate into the community after incarceration.

Empathy is something she brings to all participants who walk through the doors of the Reentry Welcome Center. The Connecticut Department of Correction brings people leaving prison right to the Center, so there is a ‘warm hand-off’ into a welcoming environment the day of their release.

Most participants receive support for six months to a year, during which time Virge and her staff teach people how to fish for themselves. Our participants need help with just about everything: food, shelter, clothing, identification, transportation, along with a livable wage.

“Their biggest fear is always, am I going to be homeless?” said Virge. Living unsheltered puts people at risk of ending up in the emergency room, overdosing or may even lead to them committing new crimes in a desperate attempt to survive.

Virge thrives seeing her staff flourish and bringing out the best in people. She encourages them to own what they do, while supporting them with the tools they need to meet participants’ needs and move into higher paying positions with increasing responsibility.

Over the years at Community Partners in Action, Virge has herself held different roles including Assistant Program Manager and Job Developer at the Hartford Alternative in the Community Program.  Then she moved into the Resettlement program where she catered to the unique needs of women recently released from prison to start their new life in the community. This role led her to Hartford’s City Hall in 2018, which was where the Reentry Welcome Center first opened in Greater Hartford.

“I like it when participants come back to let me know they have an apartment, are working and doing okay,” said Virge.

When the going gets tough and participants need something or are in crisis such as being homeless, she rallies her team to step up to the challenge and provide the support necessary.

“I treat my staff like I care about them as a person and they in turn demonstrate that same genuine care with the participants they serve.”