Dismas House to mark 15 years

WORCESTER — Dismas House will mark its 15th anniversary in the city with a fund-raising gala at Tuckerman Hall next weekend.

The third annual Good Thief Gala will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

“I think this fund-raiser is a great opportunity to celebrate 15 years, and all these people who have come through our house,” said David McMahon, co-director of Dismas House. “It’s a model that works. It’s a way to say thank you to the community for its support.”

Dismas House is a transitional program for former prisoners, situated in a rehabilitated former two-family home at 30 Richards St. The program, which has student volunteers living with former prisoners, is modeled after the original Dismas House established in Nashville with Vanderbilt University in 1974, Mr. McMahon said.

“This is a critical element that makes our community unique,” he said. “We have hundreds of former prisoners reintegrated into society. I could take people on a tour and show them former prisoners who have become successful. With the right resources and support, they can become a success. They’re not written off.”

He said the organization has paid off the mortgage on the 130-year-old house, and co-director Colleen Hilferty initiated an “Adopt-A-Room” program, in which donations were used to repair and renovate the building. “That helped take a 130-year-old house and go room by room and make it into a flagship.”

Mr. McMahon said the agency receives about 1,000 applications a year from prisoners, but can only accept about 30. He said roughly 70 percent who go through Dismas House stay out of jail for at least three years, compared to a 75 percent recidivism rate for inmates released from the county House of Correction.

“That is a community-wide effort,” he said. Mr. McMahon said the program wouldn’t have thrived without the people who run the foundations in the city, the volunteers on! its board of directors or the volunteers who go in and prepare meals.

“One of the unique things is our relationship with the neighborhood. We’ve worked hard to be a good neighbor, but also to be a leader. We clean it up. If there’s drug dealing, it won’t be a success,” he said.

Saturday’s gala will include dinner, dancing, an awards ceremony and silent and live auctions. Music will be provided by Toni Ballard.

Tickets to the Good Thief Gala are $55, and available through Dismas House. For more information, call (508) 799-9389.