If it’s true good things come in threes, then 2008 has been a banner year for Peter Blau.
First, the year kicked off in January with the Daily Planet profiling Blau’s volunteer work as a creative writing instructor at Volunteers of America, Regional Correctional Center for Women. Next, members of the VOA administration decided to highlight Blau’s service by republishing (with author permission) the Daily Planet article in the VOA Board of Director’s annual report. That brought him to the attention of Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, which honored Blau (along with nine other volunteers and philanthropists) by placing him in their Volunteer Hall of Fame earlier this month. He and the other recipients each received a plaque as well as $1000 to be donated to a nonprofit agency of their choice.
For more than five years, Blau taught incarcerated women at the Regional Correctional Center how to express their feelings through writing. As a writing instructor by trade, Blau saw reaching out to incarcerated women as a natural extension of his program and found his weekly visits to the VOA rewarding. Blau never expected to receive so much attention from his program. “It was nice to get the award,” said Blau. “But, I was already thanked a thousand times over.”
However, according to Blau, beginning October 1, the Regional Correctional Center officially closed and the incarcerated women were transferred to other facilities. The Center now will become transitional housing for both men and women preparing to reintegrate into society.
For a while, Blau wasn’t sure if he would still be able to continue teaching the class that has brought him both satisfaction and recognition; however, the VOA moved Blau’s writing program to the Women’s Recovery Center in North Oaks. WRC is a 90-day chemical dependency program for women who have experienced traumas such as physical and sexual abuse. Their issues are similar to those Blau saw in the correctional center and he teaches his class accordingly. “It’s pretty much the same format,” said Blau. “In the correctional facility, 70 to 90 percent had chemical issues.”
In addition to the Women’s Recovery Center, Blau is currently involved in two other new ventures. The Hennepin County Library System is considering having Blau help immigrant women write stories about coming to America for a project that combines both written words and digital photography. Also, Blau recently created a website to promote his multifaceted writing talents, and tell more about the various writing projects.
“Some people find it intriguing that I worked with women in corrections, immigrants, kids, adults, mental health…but I teach basically the same class,” said Blau.
Deb Pleasants worked as a probation officer for 15 years prior to becoming a stay-at-home-mom. In addition to caring for her son, she is a freelance writer and citizen journalist. She resides in St. Paul with her family.