Stories from Alexandrians that will make you smile. We hope.
Dan Mallon is the program director for Friends of Guest House, a nonprofit that helps women successfully reenter the community after incarceration.
You’re the only guy on the Friends of Guest House staff, a nonprofit that supports women. How’d that happen?
Completely by chance. A friend and former staff member asked me to go to Friends of Guest House to pick something up for him. [Executive director] Kari [Galloway] stopped me to have a chat in driveway, and basically wouldn’t let me leave! The rest is history. Being the only guy really makes things a lot easier for me. For some of the women, their relationship with me is the first healthy relationship they’ve had with a man in a very long time, so all I need to do is show up and be a good human being.
That must have been some conversation with Kari. What’s your background?
I’ve always had a drive to help people, so I started my career in the fire service. Unfortunately, I quickly developed a substance addiction which ended my career and also brought me significant legal troubles from the train wreck my life had become. Fortunately, I still had family who weren’t ready to give up on me, and Alexandria had the resources and people who believed individuals can change with the right support and help. That was the springboard to me knowing that I can be of support to other people who have experienced similar situations to mine. I decided to reenroll in school to study addiction counseling, and was soon hired in an entry level role with a substance abuse treatment program.
What is the biggest challenge that Friends of Guest House faces regarding the coronavirus?
Our limited face time with the residents during this pandemic has been the most challenging for myself and my team. The separation has been tough on both our staff and our residents but we’ve been adapting through the use of virtual platforms, but it’s not the same as being able to look someone in the eyes and make that real connection. We’ve also had to put a lot of safety protocols and best practices in place to keep our women safe, as many of our residents have a higher risk due to preexisting medical conditions.
How are your residents coping with these new restrictions in place?
It’s been really tough for them. The women experience the same stress and issues that the rest of us are facing but it’s magnified. Most of them are coming directly from incarceration and the coronavirus rules we’ve put in place put them back into that restricted movement environment. Being incarcerated is a very traumatic experience and we try our best not to retrigger those past experiences for them. Most of them thought they would hit the ground running when they got here and make connections and get employed but they simply can’t right now due to the safety measures we put in place.
As women complete our six-month program, one of our biggest goals is to help them secure stable housing, and the pandemic has brought its own unique challenges to that. A lot of them don’t have stable housing to transition to, and they need employment to secure that housing. We do manage several affordable properties for our women to transition into but it’s limited, and simply not enough.
Has anything positive come from the changes you’ve had to make?
Actually, yes. We’ve had a number of women enroll in college and begin taking virtual classes. That’s super exciting! Normally they strive to work and begin earning money. Now, with those opportunities closed temporarily, they are thinking about what they want to do. One of our women is taking online classes that focus on peer support and crisis intervention. That’s just amazing to me. Who better to help someone than someone who’s been there and experienced their own personal crisis?
You’re speaking from experience, right? And btw, love your tats. How many do you have?
A lot, and some of them have meshed together over the years. Maybe 17.
Which one’s your favorite?
The Masonic Temple done in an American traditional tattoo form on my right forearm. It’s symbolic because I grew up here in Alexandria, when I was a kid, if I couldn’t see the Masonic Temple I knew I was too far from home. So it’s kind of like my beacon back to my home and community.
Alexandria is starting to re-open. What have you visited?
Nothing yet. My family and I try to support the locally owned restaurants by getting takeout here and there. The biggest thing for us is getting back outside and outdoors. We like to spend a lot of time in woods camping and getting back in nature. We really enjoy disconnecting and going to places without cell service or restrooms or showers. You know, out there. It’s great for my wellbeing. It allows me to center and recharge and it gets us away from the pandemic so we can reset, and show back up as our best selves to our clients.
How can people help Friends of Guest House?
Our first need is to help our residents prepare to transition out of our program after six months and into the community. Due to the pandemic, most don’t have the funds to pay a security deposit or a first month’s rent. You can donate to support them on our website, so please indicate “housing” in the notes section. We also need employment opportunities for them – onsite and virtual. You can contact me at [email protected] And of course we can always use more volunteers.