Interview with Past President Betty Green

Past-President Betty Green was interviewed by Past-President and Juvenile Detention Center Program Coordinator Jerry Nowell at the annual dinner

Betty Green at dinner meeting of Thresholds in Delaware County, April 16, 2012

JN: How did you first get involved with Thresholds in Delaware County?

Betty: My husband and I moved here in October 1980. In January 1982 I heard a radio spot on Thresholds and decided to take the training and get involved. At that time the county prison was in the old building, which looked like The Shawshank Redemption could have been filmed there.

JN: What was Thresholds like then?

Betty: Our organization got its start In the Mid-1970’s when Pat Lasseter and Nancy Hirsig attended training in Buck’s County. Locally, Yvonne McCabe persuaded the Prison Board to approve the Program. We began with volunteers, five employees, and a Board of Directors in 1974, with funding from a LEAA Federal Grant.

The first classes were taught in our County Prison in 1975. When the Grant ceased in 1979, Thresholds had its first financial crisis. To save the organization, a group took over with one employee, Jacqui MacDonald, who stayed on as Executive Director. She had been the lowest paid employee, but was the most dedicated.

JN: Did the organization face any other major challenges?

Betty: Funding is always a challenge. In 1992, the year before I became President, we had lost our Executive Director of Thresholds when we had run out of money again and found ourselves in hock to United Way. As I took office, in 1993, a group of volunteers, lead by Fran Cook, Jerry Nowell and others, stepped in to run the office day to day and keep the teaching cycles going. When small sums of money began to come in, we hired Fran Cook to be the Executive director. In the beginning, Fran worked many months of 35 hour weeks for a ten hour paycheck. Thresholds applied for and received grants to pay back United Way, and we became solvent again. A few years later when Fran moved on to another job, we hired Chris Jacobsen to be the Executive Director; she is coming back onto the Board of Directors this year.

JN: Do you remember meeting Mickey Burglass?

Betty: Yes, I remember meeting him when he came to speak at Delaware County Thresholds 25th Anniversary Dinner. We asked him to speak for 25 minutes, but he spoke for 1 1/2 hours on several topics. It was an honor to have him. To the best of my knowledge, he has spoken only twice to Thresholds groups in Mid-Atlantic: Our Anniversary and once to the Lifers Association at a Prison in the State of Delaware.

JN: What changes have occurred in the Thresholds curriculum over the years?

Betty: The initial materials were authored by Milton E. Burglass & Mary Grace Duffy and were in use all up and down the East Coast in 1974. Dr. Burglass retired from Thresholds in the late 1970’s. Although changes were being discussed as necessary even then, some volunteers were devoted to the original Training Manual and Workbook and resisted all changes. The program had been taught as script and volunteers could be corrected for not adhering to it. The teaching cycle patterns were determined in the training materials.

Into the mid-1980’s, committees formed and dissolved in anger over possible changes to the materials. (Alas, not all committee members were able to apply the Thresholds model to evaluate possible changes or additions.) But a determined group of teachers, led by people in Delaware County Thresholds with some assistance from teachers from Chester County Thresholds quietly began to modify materials to develop new ideas focused on the current needs of the clients. We began with the Work Book (Client Guide) Revisions and then in 1990, Jerry Nowell & I moved on to compile the current Volunteer Training Manual.

There were several major changes to the teaching Cycle: in 1987, the first came when the original 17 Micro and 4 Macro sessions changed to 10 of each that ran concurrently. I wrote the new lesson plans. Additional materials and scheduling were introduced as needed. The latest change is the one focused on re-entry issues.

JN: Let’s artform your Thresholds experience. What stands out about the Program?

Betty: The dedication of the volunteers and their willingness to learn.

JN: What would you like to see changed in the future?

Betty: I would like to see more cooperation between chapters in Mid-Atlantic Thresholds. Also, we should share the information with anyone who will listen! Which just might mean moving into other aspects of rehabilitation, parole, etc.?

JN: Has Thresholds changed you?

Betty: My children tell me that I am easier to live with because I use the Thresholds model.

JN: What does Thresholds say to you?

Betty: Volunteers are valuable and get things done, especially those who teach our clients.

JN: What do you say to Thresholds?

Betty: Please don’t go away. I need my friends!

Question from the floor: What do you say about recidivism?

Betty: We had a study done a few years ago which shows that Thresholds graduates are less likely to return to prison than the general prison population. We used a three year period of time. Other organizations use a one year time frame and I think that we should consider doing that as well. Recidivism data is difficult to determine and is not necessarily a reliable indicator of individual long term success for various reasons. Also, we need to consider additional ways to measure and determine our success as an organization. Perhaps, with grant money, we may need to find a consultant to guide us in broadening our measurements of success.

Question from the floor: Tell about what happened the day you drove by the prison with your parents.

Betty: I had recently moved here and in the spring of 1981, I was showing my visiting parents some local sites: this is our library, this is our school, this is where we will vote, etc. But when we drive by the Prison, I said: “That is their jail.” We three reflected on my statement and my Dad said that it seemed foolish talk about “us and them”. It was a moment of personal Objective Self-Awareness. Later, when I heard about an opportunity to volunteer at the prison, I took it.

Question from the floor: How do you keep your energy up and keep contributing over the years?

Betty: When I am enthused, I simply keep going. I see a dynamic in this group that I don’t see in other volunteers. Our volunteers are intelligent, capable and strong willed. There simply isn’t another group like it.