Black History Month 2020

This February at Alvis, we proudly celebrate Black History Month. Black History Month commemorates the pivotal role that African Americans have played in shaping our U.S. history, and allows us time to acknowledge the stories, struggles, and achievements that past and present members of the Black community have experienced.

The 2020 theme for this year’s Black History Month is “African Americans and the Vote,” honoring the 100-year landmark since the 19th Amendment, which granted women across the U.S. the right to vote, and the 150-year anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote in 1870.

Black History Month Alvis Blog

We thank our incredible African American staff members, clients, and leaders who represent Alvis and its mission to the fullest. 

Some of the talented individuals who have we have previously spotlighted in written pieces include Harry Cox, Keith Stevens, Terrance Hinton, Camilla Jackson, and our President and CEO, Denise M. Robinson. 

Keith Stevens is an Alvis board member, who began connecting with our organization in 2012 through his company, Proteam Solutions Inc. (PSI), in the late 1990s. Stevens previously served on the board of Community Connection for Ohio Offenders, another nonprofit that became a part of Alvis in 2012. He acknowledges the significance of Black mentorship, which he received during his teenage years working for and witnessing a successful Black family-owned business. Seeing people that could relate to him being successful gave him “nuggets of wisdom and the ability to imagine it for himself.”

He also touches on discrimination, finding that while he has faced his share of struggles and experienced racial discrimination firsthand, he encourages those who do experience adversity to “lean into” it, so they may grow and pursue their passions to the fullest—even if that might mean working twice as hard compared to people who do not experience the same hardships.

Harry Cox, Senior Cognitive Behavioral Specialist at Alvis, has directly mentored and served as a role model to our client population. After experiencing the justice system firsthand, he’s dedicated his life to helping others navigate similar challenges and experiences that he did many years ago. In a recent interview, Cox stresses the importance of client-centered therapy. “It’s not about me,” he continues to repeat. “My whole day consists of allowing a person to be themselves. Allowing them to get rid of some of the pain while they’re in the group room.” Our job at Alvis, according to Cox, is to give clients the tools they need to turn their own lives around.


Cox also acknowledges that his job doesn’t end when he leaves the reentry center for the day. After moving to Gahanna, he realized that he was further removed from the experiences of his clients, most of whom resided on Columbus’ East Side. “When I closed my door at night,” he reflects, “I couldn’t see my environment. I couldn’t see my community.” This led him to sell his house in Gahanna and move back to the East Side. Now, he’s involved with a number of local organizations, and engages with the community from the ground floor. “You ever walk into a place and every day you know that it’s going to be a new beginning? Not for you, but somebody else? That’s what I look forward to, walking in here every day.”

In one of our recent blog posts, we spotlighted Dr. Terrance Hinton, Program Manager of Reentry Services at Alvis, who oversees both EDGE and the H.I.R.E. program. The EDGE (Empower Development by Gaining Employment) Program is a five-month program assisting justice-involved individuals to overcome barriers to employment. It is a partnership between Alvis, the City of Columbus, and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio (WBDCO).

When it comes to our clients, Hinton holds the same perspective as Cox: “Reentry has always been a part of me, because I value second chances. I believe everyone should be given a second opportunity to become successful and become a productive member of society.” Helping clients unlock their maximum potential is a key motivator for Hinton to get out of bed every day.


Camilla Jackson is a Direct Support Professional (DSP) with Developmental Disability (DD) Services at Alvis. Jackson was recognized in June by the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, winning two awards that commend her work as a DSP with Alvis: the Horizon Award and the Constellation Award. The Horizon Award celebrates Jackson’s ability to match people’s interest to events, and helping them expand their horizons, while the Constellation Award credits her capacity in providing opportunities for growth and advancement, helping co-workers become the brightest stars. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of Jackson’s job is simply being there for clients and listening to them. “I make sure that the guys are in good health, make sure they’re safe at all times.” She finds, too, that an essential component of the job is “making sure you treat them right,” and making sure “they have a good day.”

Finally, our President and CEO, Denise M. Robinson, has illustrated through her actions that she not only understands the plethora of key problems facing our community, but that it takes unity, empathy, and understanding to enact any sort of fundamental change. At our recent Amethyst graduation, she perfectly summed up what it means to be a true community advocate, telling graduates to keep us nearby “in case you need to shout down the voice of addiction when it tries to tempt you into returning to old habits,” and to know that they would “always have a personal cheering section” as they continue throughout life’s journey. 

As we celebrate this month, we recognize our own African American staff and leaders, many of whom, like the ones spotlighted above, are performing key roles (on and off the clock) in producing widespread, positive impact throughout the state.

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.

National Make A Difference Day

The mantra “pay it forward” has been gaining attention as movements such as random acts of kindness are popping up across the nation. But today, we want to focus on one man who is working to turn his life around and make a difference for someone else. This man has spent the last 43 years of his life in prison.  

Wendell Drake’s father died when he was young and his mother, grief-stricken, was in and out of mental health institutions. Drake says that when his parents disappeared from his life, so too did all forms of discipline. He got involved in minor criminal activity, but he says he never felt totally settled in the lifestyle he was building. 

He was sent to a juvenile facility at the age of 16, where he noticed that the other guys in the facility were enjoying and embracing their lives that involved criminal activity. “That was the beginning,” he says with tears in his eyes. “That was the beginning of my destruction.”

“I was in a world of trouble,” Drake says of the next few years when he ended up serving nearly two years as a juvenile after an armed robbery where one of his co-defendants was shot in the head. He says at one point, he would have denied being there that day because he didn’t go inside. But now he recognizes “I was just as much responsible for it as any of them were.” But still, the time he spent in prison was a “badge of honor” to so many of the people in his life at that time and, when he came home, he was asked to be part of another robbery. He agreed. 

“At that point in my life,” he explains, “I probably didn’t even realize that I had an inner-self. Not to mention the string of victims that I left in my wake.”

On the day he would pull that trigger, he says he never planned to use the gun. But the owner was not willing to stand by and be robbed. The owner pulled out a pool stick and Drake panicked. Before he realized what he’d done, he pulled the trigger that would kill an innocent man. But Drake says his intentions on that day do not matter. He never meant to hurt anyone, but he did. “It does no good to the person that I shot nor does it do any good to the grieving hearts of his remaining loved ones who know that their loved one was struck down for nothing. It does them no good.”

After nearly half a century of justice system involvement, Drake says, “it was necessary.” He believes it was “preordained from the Creator for me to go through the experiences I went through in order to be the person that I am.”

And who is that person? A man who has accepted his guilt, accepted his punishment, and accepted his ability to change. Drake believes that people have the ability to turn their lives around and that humans are not the sum of where they came from. “For the rest of my life I will be trying to do everything in my power to help an individual live a little bit better than what they’re living now.”

Drake’s goal is to be part of a reentry program like the one he completed at Alvis. “I would like to continue to work in reentry in a formal type of way. I would like somebody to take a look at me, look at my credentials, look at my experiences… and see if I am who I say I am.”

He sites Ohio’s overall 30% recidivism rate as being a primary concern as well as the demographic of kids who are growing up in the same situation he did. His goal to be part of reentry comes from his experience with Alvis

“I had nowhere else to go when I was on parole,” he explains. But Mr. Ross, an Alvis operations manager, told him, “we are going to give you all the opportunity in the world to succeed and see what you do with it.”

Community programs such as Touch have also reached him in life-changing ways, and Drake jokes his praise is so strong, “they will have to pay me for a commercial.”

But Drake has seen what a true support system can do for a person. “CPT, Primary Care Solutions Agency, the Nehemiah House, Refuge—organizations and groups like this, people like this, they helped me to want to do the right thing by showing that ‘I believe you can make it.’”

After seeing the difference such programs have made in the lives of others, Drake believes this is his calling. “I want to be able to make a significant influence,” he says. “What you do for somebody else can be grand if you are truly helping them move from one point to another. And that’s what I try to live by.”

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.