“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Pope Francis’s call for Catholics to accompany people on the margins unfolds in Catholic Charities’ Welcome Home Reentry Program, where volunteer mentors work with men and women returning to their communities after incarceration.

“I help them along a part of their path,” said Mike Dombo, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Washington, D.C., who has served as a mentor with the Welcome Home program for about two and one-half years.

Dombo, who lives in Kensington with his family and leads a sales team for a consulting firm, heard about the program from his friend Msgr. John Enzler, the president of Catholic Charities.

“I got involved because I wanted to give back, and I found a way to do that,” he said.

At the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual prison ministry conference, held March 9 at St. Joseph Parish in Beltsville, Maryland, Dombo received the Father Michael Bryant Award, named for a priest who began the Welcome Home program in 2005.

Bernita Johnson, Catholic Charities’ reentry coordinator at the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center in Rockville, said Dombo reflects the qualities that make someone a good mentor, being “dedicated, approachable, flexible and willing to share their own life challenges and experiences. This year’s recipient is all of those things and more.”

At the prison ministry conference, Jonathan Imes – whom Dombo is mentoring – said it’s been very beneficial for him “to have someone to talk to,” and he praised his mentor for having a “kind heart.”

In an interview, Imes explained that he has been serving six years for a drug conviction, and now he’s in a work release program in Montgomery County and scheduled to be released in November. The Welcome Home program, he said, was giving him “a great start” as he seeks to rebuild his life.

“I’m just trying to get re-established in society,” Imes said, adding that he hopes to find a decent job and mend relationships with his family and other loved ones.

Imes praised Dombo for being a mentor and a friend who “always makes himself available to me.” He added, “I can talk to him about anything. Having someone to talk to is a plus, to be able to share your ideas and plans.”

Jonathan Imes, right, is joined by Mike Dombo, his mentor in the Welcome Home Reentry Program, as they spoke about its outreach during the March 9 annual prison ministry conference for the Archdiocese of Washington held at St. Joseph Parish in Beltsville, Maryland. (CS photo/Mihoko Owada)

Father Bryant, who presented the award named in his honor to Dombo at the conference, is a Washington native who has served in prison ministry during nearly four decades of his priesthood, including as the former longtime Catholic chaplain at the D.C. Jail. This year marks his 50th anniversary as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. The Welcome Home Reentry Program that he founded has been administered by Catholic Charities since 2012.

“This program is for anyone (incarcerated) who is serious about coming home and staying home,” the priest said. Such mentoring programs have been shown to have a significant impact in reducing the rate of recidivism, helping decrease the rate of former inmates falling back into crime and returning to jail or prison.

The veteran priest, who continues to serve as a volunteer lead coordinator for the Welcome Home program, said mentors walk with men and women after their incarceration, “giving them the moral compass they need.”

In an interview, Dombo said he considered receiving the Father Michael Bryant Award as “a huge honor.” He added, “I didn’t get involved to receive awards. I got involved to help.”

The most rewarding part for him, he said, has been that “you make friends with people you otherwise would not have met.”

“I’ve met some great people who frankly took a wrong turn in the past. They’re looking to start on a new footing when they come out,” he said.

Dombo said Welcome Home volunteers meet with the person they’re mentoring typically once a week for about an hour.

“A mentor is an advisor, someone who can offer suggestions or provide another viewpoint… The biggest value a mentor can offer is to look at challenges from another perspective,” he said.

The ability to listen is key for a mentor, Dombo said.

“You try your best to put yourself in their shoes. I don’t think your job is to tell them what to do, but to help them work through problems,” he said. “…The whole idea is to help them reenter society and become productive members and have a fresh start, and my job is to help them do that.”

The challenges they face can be daunting, he said, explaining, “It’s hard enough to look for a job, but when you have a criminal record, people don’t want to talk with you.” He added, “Most of the guys I work with are committed to not making the same mistake.”

Dombo said a mentor’s role in accompanying someone means “I share in their hopes and aspirations. When things go well, you’re ecstatic for them.”

For Dombo, volunteering in the Welcome Home program has deepened his Catholic faith, a faith he was born and raised in while growing up in New York, but spent years away from. “This is part of me coming back,” he said.

Anyone with general life experiences can volunteer with the Welcome Home program, he said, adding that he would encourage people “to give it a try, and you’ll be amazed at the results.”

“Just have faith – you’ll have amazing returns on your investment of time,” said Dombo. “Have faith, and you’ll be rewarded.”

(Information on the Welcome Home Reentry Program can be found online at https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/welcomehome/. Prospective volunteers can email Karen McNeal, the senior program manager for Catholic Charities’ prison outreach, at [email protected] or call her at 202-772-4300, ext. 040.)