Chattanooga Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers passionately speaks about the Violence Reduction Initiative during a meeting in the City Council Building on Feb. 8 in Chattanooga. The meeting, allowing members of the public to share their opinions on the VRI, was put together by Councilman Anthony Byrd.

On Tuesday morning, a dozen young adults sat in green, high-backed office chairs around a conference table on the third floor of Chattanooga City Hall.

Only a handful wore ankle monitors that poked out beneath their pant legs or over their socks, but all of those present were on probation, trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives on the outside. Troy Rogers, the city's public safety coordinator, believes they can, and he told them so at the beginning of the meeting.

"We're going to help you and love on you as you're going through this," he said. "We can be here. We can connect you to support services, jobs, education services and all that stuff."

The group showed up Tuesday because they are all participants in the Chattanooga Community Impact Program, a collaboration between the city and the Tennessee Department of Corrections to connect 18-to-24-year-olds to the support services necessary to re-enter society.

Elizabeth Gentzler, manager of the program for the state's department of correction, said it's a yearlong program dedicated to "high-risk" individuals convicted of serious offenses.

"The best part of the job is seeing these guys get help," she said. "They come out with nothing, but there have been so many more agencies that have come out to help them than I imagined."

Rogers and Gentzler brought with them to the meeting a small group of community advocates and nonprofit directors to show those gathered that resources are available, so long as they're willing to put in the work.

Ronald Bristow, founder of Bottled Tears Ministries in Lafayette, Georgia, said he's willing to help the offenders overcome the hurdles that lie ahead of them. His group helps ex-offenders in their job hunt, gets them into housing and sometimes covers living costs for food and medicine.

"We provide guys with an opportunity to plant in new soil," he said, explaining the available housing and voucher programs the group provides to people in Walker County. "When you get out and do what you're supposed to do and stay in your business, doors open."

Bristow spent 15 years in federal prison himself and knows how tumultuous the re-entry process can be, so he founded Bottled Tears Ministries to help others trying to navigate it. He said he managed to clinch a job that paid well after pushing for an interview and making a strong case for himself.

"I sold myself. Stop waiting on someone to give you a handout," he said. "All you've got to do is what you're supposed to do."

Marvin Williams, 24, said he appreciated what Bristow and others had to say and added that he would be talking with them soon about his options.

"This was actually motivating to do better in life," he said. "There are people who want to help that we didn't know about, and I'm going to meet with some of these guys."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.