Business

Maridee Dugger: Working with those in trouble

More than 1,100 people have been aided by the RISE program

Troy J. Davenport (left) of Chicago, Maridee Dugger of Cedar Rapids, and Gavin Hermanson of Cedar Rapids talk with fellow Return participants at Mikey’s Family Restaurant in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. The Return conversation group is an addition to the Rise program for people who have recently been released from of Linn County Jail. The Return group is for people who have been out of jail for over a year, with the purpose of creating community support systems and social circles for those who need it. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Troy J. Davenport (left) of Chicago, Maridee Dugger of Cedar Rapids, and Gavin Hermanson of Cedar Rapids talk with fellow Return participants at Mikey’s Family Restaurant in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. The Return conversation group is an addition to the Rise program for people who have recently been released from of Linn County Jail. The Return group is for people who have been out of jail for over a year, with the purpose of creating community support systems and social circles for those who need it. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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“I’ve spent my whole life worrying about the underdog,” Maridee Dugger said.

Through the years, Dugger’s efforts to help marginalized populations have benefited students, the incarcerated and the poor.

Dugger started her career as a home economics teacher at Kennedy High School.

“That evolved into an alternative program, pre-Metro,” she said, referring to Cedar Rapids’ alternative high school. “I’ve always worked with people who are in trouble.”

She later obtained a master’s degree in education and went to work as an admissions adviser for Kaplan University.

Her former co-worker there, retired teacher Myrna Cooney, described Dugger as a “natural mentor” who “reached out to students with a warm smile, a ready ear, a big heart and an open mind.”

With those qualities, Cooney said, Dugger “enabled countless students to overcome so many obstacles and obtain success in school and in life.”

Dugger’s passion to help the underdog led her to join the Linn County Jail Ministry in 1990, the first woman to do so. In 2000, after retiring from Kaplan, she was hired as the ministry’s volunteer coordinator.

Still in that role, she has grown the program to its current level of 80 volunteers who make monthly visits to the Linn County Jail.

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Her work with the jail ministry led Dugger to identify a lack of support for persons after their incarceration ended.

“Volunteers kept saying people had nowhere to go afterwards,” she said.

In 2015, Dugger received a grant to start the Reintegration Initiative for Safety and Empowerment — RISE — Program, which helps formerly incarcerated persons overcome obstacles when transitioning back into the community.

In three years, the program has helped more than 1,100 people obtain access to housing, employment, education and other needs after leaving jail.

Dugger stepped down as director of RISE earlier this year, but remains involved with the program.

“I’m still working with RISE participants who have left the regular program but are still struggling at work and in their personal life,” she said, noting that she talks to or meets with six to 10 participants a week.

“Because of our relationship, we discuss decision-making and problem-solving.”

She also is working on a new project — a “bank of the poor” that will provide mini loans to the working poor.

“So many people need $15 co-pays for prescriptions or special formula for the baby,” she said. “They could get help in a month but need it more quickly.”

Working with a group of 12 people, including bankers, past RISE participants, agency representatives and community leaders, Dugger said the new bank program should be ready for not-for-profit designation by the end of the year and to begin offering services sometime in 2019.

Dugger’s latest idea is to launch a community-building coffee hour for citizens returning from incarceration, called Return.

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“The plan is to have a time at a coffee shop so people can meet and discuss their problems, their wins, and their hopes for the future,” she said.

She already has formed a group of five or six people to work on that effort.

“I don’t do retirement well,” she noted.

Cooney concurs. “In retirement, when most slow down, Dugger continues to find new ways to address issues that face many in the community.”

• Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.