Shirley LaMarr has dedicated more than 20 years to helping people in San Mateo County, California, overcome everything from drug addiction to homelessness. Thanks to her unwavering commitment to people who have struggled with “debilitating darkness” and to support from community and business partners, LaMarr’s programs continue to help people transition into fulfilling, productive lives.
Here’s more about LaMarr’s story and her work:
She knows hardship firsthand:
She attributes her life’s turnaround to a residential rehabilitation program on Delancey Street in San Francisco, where she enrolled after she was released from prison. She graduated from the program in 1994, and she has said that without it, she has no doubt that she would be dead today.
When she left Delancey Street, LaMarr said her sole focus was to help others who were in dire need.
After working as the director of Choices, an in-custody program at the Maguire Correctional Facility, for almost six years, LaMarr opened the Mz. Shirliz Transitional Living Center in Redwood City, California. She focused on people who wanted to change their lives.
In 2011, Mz. Shirliz officially became The Centre to reflect its wide range of programs for helping people through all aspects of transitioning from incarceration into regular life. LaMarr said she hopes to “fill in the gaps of the criminal justice system” and provide a safe place so that people don’t fall back into their old lifestyles.
Her only requirement for admittance into the program is that applicants must be trying their best to stay clean and sober.
Meeting basic needs:
The Centre’s building now provides resources to help people prepare to apply for jobs. In its computer lab, residents can learn computer skills and take part in workshops that teach them how to write a resume. They also learn how to search job websites and fill out applications online.
Staff members help residents get copies of their birth certificate, apply for proper identification, and get appropriate clothing for work. Residents also can attend yoga classes, monthly support groups, and a GED program.
Since 2009, more than 300 people have been treated at The Centre. Many come from backgrounds of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration, and gangs. The Centre provides them with room and board, regardless of whether they can afford it, and also provides financial assistance for paying for DMV fees, life skills classes, and counseling. The Centre is always open and accepts emergency intakes.
When new residents arrive at The Centre, they must go through a thorough intake process that includes assessments of their personal needs and the risks they face. Counselors then use evidence-based principles to create treatment plans for residents and best prioritize staff, time, and money to maximize treatment resources and provide the most effective services in the most cost-effective way.
A plan for each resident:
Each resident receives a personalized treatment plan that can include mandatory attendance at support groups multiple times a week and other activities based on what the person needs. The Centre offers classes on everything from parenting to anger management to budgeting. All residents must participate in behavior modification and employment readiness programs.
In addition, The Centre works with a number of local businesses to help residents learn valuable skills and receive on-the- job training in fields such as construction, event catering, food preparation, and construction. These programs are designed to help people who are determined to get better learn the behaviors and job skills that will help them succeed in the community.
Testimonials show success:
Former and current clients praise LaMarr and her programs for helping them get their lives on track after being released from prison.
One client, who attends alumni meetings with his father, said the gatherings help them stay positive and remind them how their “old ways” can be harmful. He said he enjoys the meetings because they focus on the behaviors that led them into their problems. “I really love the staff…and I plan to continue attending these meetings…so I can continue on the path of doing good and bettering our lives,” he wrote in a testimonial on LaMarr’s website.
Another client wrote that he originally worked at The Centre to complete court-ordered community service hours. While he was there, he heard people talking about how they had made mistakes but were changing their lives to become better people. Going there and talking to people, he said, “keeps me on the right track.”
Depending on donations:
LaMarr opened her organization with a loan, and now she depends on donations to keep it going and to stay self-sufficient. The first donation ever given to the organization was $1,500 donated by three girls who sold a luxury purse on eBay. Other donors include alumni of the program, national businesses, and LaMarr’s friends and contacts.