For those who have them, a criminal record is not something many will brag about, and for most, a chance at a fresh start is welcomed relief. " There's a lot of people that have had a criminal history and they need some hope and to be inspired that they can have a meaningful life", said SOS program manager Stephanie Owens.
And it's inspiration that the non-profit Starting Over Strong is giving. The program was started in 2009 by Stephanie Owens and Sharon Darcie as a class project while attending Chico State. The organization has since helped more than 400 north state residents fill out the necessary paperwork and take the steps needed to have their criminal records expunged. " We assist people in filling out fee waiver forms so that they don't have to pay filing fees and the basic process for expungement is pretty simple", said Owens.
In order to qualify for expungement, there must be no pending fines, charges or restitution owed, and probation must be completed prior to filing. still, only certain individuals will qualify, but the rewards are worth it. " It's allowing them to find meaningful employment and to be able to have a new start in life", said Owens.
The organization is ran solely by volunteers, many of whom benefited from the program themselves, and now make it their goal to help others. " I had my record expunged and I started volunteering ever since 2010 and I've been with the program ever since", said volunteer Rachel Gonzalez.
To begin the expungement process, all that is initially needed is a copy of the existing criminal record. The organization also asks for a five dollar donation, but volunteers say the true payment is helping others start fresh. " It feels really good, it feels like you're empowering people to achieve economic and financial success", said Gonzalez.
The organization meets the last Tuesday of every month. The next expungement workshop will be held at Chico State in the BMU November 29th at 6.