Ask anyone what makes a good volunteer and their answer invariably includes the following: commitment, dedication, and an indelible belief that individuals can change. This brief description barely begins to describe the Florida Department of Corrections' Volunteer of the Year for 2010—Pastor Blaine Whitt.
Pastor Whitt started volunteering at Marion Correctional Institution nearly seven years ago when he was the pastor of a local church. His volunteering soon became a passion that he shared with others as he recruited even more volunteers. Pastor Whitt's passion soon became a vision. Pastor Whitt resigned from his church and started an organization he named "Xtreme Soulutions." Soon after its establishment "Xtreme Soulutions" began serving local at-risk young adults and inmates at the Marion County Jail, finding them gainful employment, teaching them life skills and how to accept responsibility.
In late 2008 Pastor Whitt was asked to share his vision of "Xtreme Soulutions" with the Marion County Faith and Justice Coalition. At the conclusion of his presentation he was approached by William Smith, then Warden of Marion CI Warden Smith wanted to know if "Xtreme Soulutions" could be adapted and implemented at Marion CI where Pastor Whitt was already volunteering 40 hours per week. The answer was a resounding yes!
A pilot program was initiated at the Marion Work Camp in July 2009. The program was so successful that plans were immediately made to bring the program to the main unit. It was not long before Warden Smith was promoted to Assistant Regional Director-Institutions (Southern); however "Xtreme Soulutions" never lost a step as Wardens Riedl and Griffin continued the relationship established by former Warden Smith.
"Xtreme Soulutions" is committed to each inmate for a period of four years: three years before release and one year after release. Inmates volunteer for the program but their families must also consent, both as a support group and as willing participants. During the last three years of the inmates' sentences they are instructed in a wide array of educational, vocational, social and spiritual programs to help reintroduce them to their families and society. After release "Xtreme Soulutions" continues to assist inmates with housing, job placement and spiritual guidance.
Pastor Whitt's program of rehabilitation and re-entry has become so successful at Marion that it has been expanded and now includes Lowell Correctional Institution as well. Pastor Whitt gives much credit to the wardens, chaplains and staff at Marion CI and Lowell CI, as well numerous corporate partnerships for the success of "Xtreme Soulutions." However none of this success would be possible without Pastor Whitt. Last year alone he volunteered over 2,000 hours with the Department and has recruited numerous other volunteers to work with "Xtreme Soulutions" at both Marion and Lowell.
Pastor Whitt, as an excellent volunteer, will tell you that as a volunteer not only do you have the opportunity to positively influence an inmate's future but to influence your own future as well. He states he had a dream, a dream that could only be big because he serves a big God!
Congratulations Pastor Blaine Whitt on being selected as the Florida Department of Corrections 2010 Volunteer of the Year!