By Gordon Furneaux
‘Tie a Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ was a chart topping song a few decades ago with an upbeat melody about the trials of an ex-convict. In reality it takes more than a decoration to help these ex-offenders return back to society. Naturally, The Yellow Ribbon Foundation named themselves after this song as that is what they have been accomplishing since 2004.
The Yellow Ribbon Project is a branch of the CARE (community action for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders) group specializing in ensuring these Singaporeans and their families receive a second chance through community outreach.
They promote this new lease on life through events like the fundraising at the Paya Labar Methodist Girls Secondary School which raised over 11,000 by selling cookies the ex- offenders baked themselves. Over the years projects like these have funneled over 2.3 million for its cause with over 660,000 from last year. Other events such as the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run have also been successful for the organization and everyone involved as well.
What the organization tries to bring to people’s attention is that the ex-offenders need support once they serve their sentence and return home. This, for good reason, is what the organization calls entering into the second prison. Their time behind bars is completed yet they are still stigmatized for the time they have served. The organization helps free them of this second sentence not only by their employees but also by the people who come forward to offer their services as a volunteer. Volunteers use their time for such roles as after-care treatment and youth programs, which for example help quell the trend of young people succumbing to drug addiction and eventually serving prison sentences at a young age. Singaporeans have been standing up for causes like these for decades. This is a tradition that The Yellow Ribbon Project and its volunteers hope to keep doing for decades to come. One example of this is the Goh family who have been aiding inmates and ex-offenders for over fifty years. Starting in 2006, Joshua Teo has followed the family tradition laid out by his grandfather and father by volunteering for the Yellow Ribbon Project.
The Yellow Ribbon Project also promotes the employment of ex-offenders by having them register through the organizations online job vacancy database. This Employment Assistance Unit allows ex-offenders the opportunity to see which companies are looking to hire as the companies themselves also post notices.
Sponsoring Yellow Ribbon Projects events is another way people can become involved helping the ex-offenders reintegrate themselves where companies donate goods and services to events such as offering transportation and concessions. All this is accomplished in part through their corporate social responsibility, or STAR (Skills Training Assistance to Restart) program, for inmates due to be released or ex-offenders not having been released for more than two years.
Tying a ribbon around a tree is good in theory but the fact is it takes more than that to reintroduce ex-offenders back into their community. The Yellow Ribbon Organization offers many ways in which Singaporeans can become involved and offer their assistance to people who have made mistakes and already made good.