By Nyesha Stone
Jessie Watkins was sent to prison at the age of 17 and then spent 18 years locked up. After getting out of jail, he was expected to be on his best behavior since he was on probation.
According to Watkins, he was in a relationship for a few years before him and his then-girlfriend even got into an argument, then one night everything changed. Watkins had cheated on his girlfriend and things went sour once she became drunk. He says he shoved her to defend himself, but since he was on probation he was sent to jail for a week. Once getting out he was then sent to the Alma Center Inc.—a research-based agency that provides trauma-informed healing, education, social services and a positive peer community to support abusive men’s peaceful and lasting transformation, according to their press release.
Watkins started his first journey with the Alma Center in 2013, and then he was forced to go back two years later after being involved in another violent situation. The first time he participated in their Wisdom Walk, which helps men with critical thinking skills and gives them options on how to handle situations without violence. The second time he participated in their Men Ending Domestic Violence program which was similar to the walk.
The Alma Center consistently reminded Watkins he wasn’t in jail anymore, which can be hard when you’ve spent so much time in the system. Watkins is grateful for what the Alma Center has done for him because they’ve transformed him into a better man.
“The Alma Center is who they say they are,” said Watkins. “They actually do help people.”
Recently the Alma Center received a $100,000 grant from one of Southeastern Wisconsin’s top five foundations, Bader Philanthropies. The grant will ensure continued funding for the position of Director of Administration within the organization, which means the Alma Center will be able to continue helping men like Watkins, who is no longer forced to go to the programs, yet he’s still involved.
Founder and Executive Director of the Alma Center Terri Strodthoff has more than 20 years of experience in the field of domestic violence and she’s dedicated to helping men.
“It feels like what we do has a purpose,” said Strodthoff.
Strodthoff believes people are born whole, but experiences through life take away that wholeness. The Alma Center helps these men become whole again by taking it back to their past and discovering what caused these men to become violent. Strodthoff says the Alma Center doesn’t defend the wrongs the men have committed, but she does understand trauma and healing, and that these men need help instead of being labeled as an outcast of the community.
“We’re here because we care,” said Strodthoff. “We value who they are in the community.”
The Alma Center has been so successful because it’s not just the men who go through these programs, it’s the staff as well, said Strodthoff. The staff and Strodthoff are always growing, healing and learning just like the men they help.
Program Officer of Bader Philanthropies Jerry Roberts says the foundation is more than happy to provide this money to the Alma Center. The mission of Bader Philanthropies is to give people the best quality of life and everything the Alma Center does represents that, according to Roberts.
“They are a great organization doing great work in the community [and] they could always use volunteers and support across the board,” said Roberts.
Watkins isn’t the only man who’s fell in love with the Alma Center—James Cross also participated in their programs and just like Watkins, Cross continues to go back voluntarily.
Upon first entering the Alma Center’s programs, Cross “didn’t wanna [sic] hear what they were telling,” him but after constantly going back he ascribed to their philosophies. Every time he enters that building he feels loved.
“They really, really believe you can do anything,” said Cross.
That type of positivity turned Cross into a better man, human being and father to his two children. According to Cross, the Alma Center went beyond the curriculum and gave the men opportunities to step outside the city and the ghetto to experience a different perspective of life.
Cross and Watkins are very excited the Alma Center received the grant funding because they both agree that if it wasn’t for the staff of the Alma Center they’d wouldn’t be the men they are today.
The Alma Center is located on the third floor at 2821 N 4th St.