Cover Stories

Real Change: Concordance Academy of Leadership

Recidivism is an issue that is often dismissed, but the truth is, the world is an unwelcoming place for adults leaving prison. They are unequipped to navigate a system that is indifferent at best and openly hostile at worst. Concordance Academy of Leadership is dedicated to helping individuals, rebuilding families and strengthening the community by advancing the field of re-entry services. “Recidivism is the third greatest societal issue our country faces,” says CEO and president Danny Ludeman. “More than 100 million people are impacted by mass incarceration, but there is not a lot of understanding as to why the problem exists.”

The academy currently works with men from prisons in Bonne Terre and Pacific and women from a Vandalia, Missouri, penitentiary. Each prison provides a list of candidates who are given the option to work with the nonprofit. Its holistic, 18-month program focuses on serving individuals in three core areas: behavioral health and wellness, education and employment, and community and life skills. Ludeman says the scope of services offered sets Concordance Academy apart.  “A lot of nonprofits are doing wonderful work, but because of limited budgets, they only can address one or two issues,” he explains. “We offer 12 services to provide a comprehensive support system.” Services begin six months before release, and after the program is completed, participants retain their access to clinical and career services as alumni.

Now, with two and a half years of operation under its belt and more than 300 participants to date, Concordance Academy has empirical evidence that its approach is working. The national average for recidivism is more than 70 percent within five years, meaning that for every 10 people released from prison, seven are arrested again. Ludeman says the academy set out with a goal of reducing that  percentage by a third in its first three years, and he’s happy to report the nonprofit already has exceeded that goal. “Our success rate is actually a reduction in recidivism by 60 percent, and we’ll continue to get better,” he says. “We want to keep people from going back, and we’re seeing phenomenal results.”

This fall, the nonprofit will expand its operations to St. Clair County in Illinois, and Ludeman says that is just the beginning of its growth. “We want to be in every state in 10 years,” he notes.  “I believe St. Louis will be acknowledged as the city that cracked the code for reducing reincarceration rates. From partnerships with employers and housing developers to donations from businesses and individuals, the entire community has embraced us. This city is showing the rest of the country that the problem can be solved.”

Concordance Academy’s annual gala is Oct. 20 at The Ritz-Carlton, and to celebrate the season, the theme is Hallow’s Eve Ball. Guests are invited to dress in masks and costumes and enjoy a spinetingling evening that includes auctions, raffles, dinner and live music. “We want to keep the event a little mysterious so people will come and see for themselves, but it’s always a great way to have fun and contribute to a phenomenal organization,” Ludeman says, adding that the Halloween theme offers more than just ghastly delights. “We’re putting on masks so our participants can take theirs off. They often feel like they have to hide their experiences because society doesn’t understand. We want to show that they can be themselves and still find support.

Concordance Academy of Leadership is dedicated to advancing the field of re-entry services and helping inmates transition out of incarceration successfully. Its annual gala is Oct. 20 at The Ritz-Carlton. Pictured on the cover: Senior community support specialist James E. Little, community support specialist Kate Kay, president and CEO Danny Ludeman. For more information, call 314.369.6001 or visit concordanceacademy.org

Cover design by Allie Bronsky
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured above: Senior community support specialist James E. Little with president and CEO Danny Ludeman

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