From Service to Freedom

WILLMAR, MN — For inmates Elijah Gomez and Martin Bravo, picking up recycling from homes in the Willmar area is more than just volunteer work — it gives them a purpose.

"It reminds me of what I'm working towards — what life is like outside of jail," Gomez said.

Gomez and Bravo both volunteer with the Kandiyohi County Community Service Program, which is run in partnership with Kandiyohi County Community Corrections. The program allows nonviolent offenders to either work off their fines or provides offenders who partake in the Sentencing to Service program an opportunity to be released early from jail if they are eligible according to Nancy Naujokas, assistant director of Kandiyohi County Community Corrections. Offenders participate in the program by choice if they initially are sentenced by a judge and abide by certain rules and regulations.

"If you're in jail, it's a privilege to be a part of the program," said Bravo, who has been at the county jail since early January and expects to be released in April.

Brian Nelson, program coordinator of the Kandiyohi County Community Service Program, said workers collect recycling from Tuesday through Friday across eight different areas in Willmar and Atwater. The offenders are picked up in a van at either the Kandiyohi County Jail or the Kandiyohi County Courthouse. They then head out with a crew member from Kandiyohi County Community Service to visit designated locations to retrieve the recycling.

Curbside recycling pickup is the largest program run through Kandiyohi County Community Service. Nelson said that in 2017, the program had more than 2,000 households participate in curbside pickup. Other Kandiyohi County Community Service programs range from restoring local nonprofit buildings to maintaining and growing food for the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf in Willmar.

"Giving back to the community is a blessing," said Gomez, who has been in jail since late January. "We have a chance to be out here and prove to our loved ones that we can make a difference. We can make a change."


This story was published by the West Central Tribune.