The Pickaway Correctional Institution (PCI) held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday for its Community Service Center.

The Community Service Center is a dedicated workspace that inmates can use for community service projects to serve communities around Ohio.

According to Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, as of Nov. 30, PCI has served 197,861 hours of community service.

This includes working with community partners such as the Bike Lady, Crayons to Computers, My Very Own Blanket and the Vannie Project.

Mohr praised staff members and inmates at PCI for their commitment in giving smiles and hope to others.

Mohr said that often times people say life starts for inmates once they have been released, but he said that could not be further from the truth.

“We are focused on turning lives around,” Mohr said. “We are focused on hope. We want community inside our prisons. Our fellows wearing blue will be returned to the community. I want their best days to be ahead of them.”

Kate Koch, executive director of Bike Lady, Inc., said inmates have been working with the bike program for four years and in that time, inmates have assembled 4,000 bikes to give to children in foster care. The inmates are the assembly crew, provide logistics and print safety materials.

“They are my employees in essence,” Koch said. “They are my business, I couldn’t do it without them.”

Koch said a bike gives purpose to a child in foster care much like the bike assembly gives purpose to the inmates at PCI. The Community Service Center will give them more space to continue to assemble the bikes.

The Community Service Center provides a place for work tables, sewing machines and a silk screen machine that are used to make blankets by the inmates.

Jessica Hollins, founder and CEO of My Very Own Blanket, said the homemade blankets the inmates make provide comfort for foster care children.

The inmates will also use the center to put together educational activities made out of donated materials as part of the Crafts with Conviction project at Crayons to Computers. Crayons to Computers is a free store for teachers of needy students. Crayons to Computers serves 368 schools and 144,000 students in the greater Cincinnati area.

Another community service project the inmates participate in is The Vannie Project. Inmates use plastic grocery bags to crochet sleeping mats that are passed out to the homeless.

Dixie Vargo, with The Vannie Project, called each of the inmates an angel for their volunteer efforts.

“Every mat you make says you care,” Vargo said.

Deborrha Armstrong, communications director at Franklin County Children Services, said Franklin County serves 30,000 children a year and when the inmates volunteer towards a project that benefits foster children, it shows the children that someone in the community cares about them.

“All the work you do has an impact on the children,” Armstrong told the inmates.

PCI has a long history of offender community service and volunteerism. The new Community Service Center will enhance the capability to provide meaningful, pro-social activities for the offenders while strengthening the relationships with community partners and increasing charitable contributions to those that need it most.

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