By Holly Hendershot
MCCLELLANDTOWN, Pa. — The director and founder of 180 Degree About Face program based in McClellandtown thought her life was over after she was convicted of a felony drug charge and sent to prison boot camp.
But after Joyce Thornton was released, she realized she just at the beginning of her journey.
Now a licensed practical nurse, Thornton has been involved in prison ministry for more than 15 years. In 2015, she started the nonprofit 180 Degree About Face, because she believes if she could turn her life around, she can help other women do the same.
The organization helps women in Fayette and surrounding counties who may have been incarcerated or who are taking their lives in a harmful direction. Through the program, they receive support, outpatient drug and alcohol counseling, assistance finding jobs and housing, and help transitioning to a healthy and happy lifestyle.
“Most of them come out of jail with nothing,” Thornton said. “We try to give them a stable house and everything they need to get themselves back on track.”
Thornton said the motto of the organization is, “360 will put you right back where you started, but 180 degrees will turn you around in a new direction,” and that’s exactly the goal for the women who enter the program.
Jessi Gardner of Masontown said when she was released after a year and a half in prison, her parole officer sent her to 180 Degree About Face. Now she has graduated from the program, is two and a half years clean and has been reunited with her 4-year-old twin children. Gardner said being in the program gave her the opportunity to get a job and do something with her life.
- IF YOU WANT TO HELP: The organization accepts both donations of funds and women’s clothing. To donate to or support 180 Degree About Face in any way, call Thornton at 724-366-7463 or email [email protected].
“Her program really worked for me,” she said. “The love and support that she gives you; she is like a mother to everyone that enters into her program. Girls need to give her a chance to do what she does, because she is an amazing woman. Her story helped me, and now I have my own story.”
Thornton said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced her to discontinue accepting women into the program for the time being. She recently recovered from coronavirus herself and said it’s just too risky to accept the women, since the program involves living in a group home for up to six months.
Since the organization financially supports the women fully until they find jobs, it wasn’t feasible to house multiple women in the same location because of the risk of coronavirus and the costs associated with it.
“Right now, it’s at a standstill,” Thornton said. “I’m getting letters from women that are ready to get out, that are ready to be paroled there, that are already paroled, but financially right now with COVID, its challenging because I can’t afford to take care of them the way I normally would. I can’t guarantee that I’ll find them a job or anything right now.”
Thornton’s hopes for the organization in the new year include getting licensed, so they can receive better funding, starting in-house drug and alcohol meetings and getting the word out that they exist to help women.
“My focus is the women and helping them get started,” she said. “It’s almost like I’ll have to restart after COVID.”
Holly Hendershot is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Capital-Star, where this story is being simultaneously published. Readers may email her at [email protected]