Meet Fran Bolin, the Executive Director of Assisting Families of Inmates, a non-profit that helps recuperate the families of offenders and provides them support in all its forms.
A family person, Fran loves her community and tries to give back wherever she can. She believes, “giving back is truly a combination of time, talent, and treasure, and I am grateful for the opportunities to do so!” Her love for fellow humans led Fran to volunteer on boards, co-found philanthropic giving circles, and organize fundraising events, which eventually led to assisting families of inmates financially, socially, and emotionally.
Fran grew up in a household that valued family, faith, compassion, respect, and community. She and her sister were taught to be grateful for what they received and the importance of helping the less fortunate. She reminisces, “My parents’ primary message was to go forth and do better for humanity. At a very early age, my mother had us going up and down the street to collect for the American Heart Association and other organizations. My parents made sure that we contributed and had well-rounded experiences with exposure to many different areas of life and the community.”
According to Fran, her educational, personal, and professional experiences at Meredith College, North Carolina, have impacted her deeply. It was there that she found her perfect fit with social work and got a degree in it. Later, Fran graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s degree in social work. During her years as a college student, she was assigned to a local probation office in a neighboring county, supervising adult offenders. This enriching experience made her choose her path in social work. She says, “Working with adult offenders, helping, being in the courthouse, advocating for clients who were completing their requirements was exciting and challenging. Working in community corrections exposed me to so much that I had never known”.
When she started working at a local probation office, Fran realized that the criminal justice system impacts anyone and everyone. It doesn’t discriminate between offender and victim. So when she learned of an organization named Prison Family Support Services (now, Assisting Families of Inmates) that was looking for an Executive Director, she interviewed for the job and got it.
Assisting Families of Inmates (AFOI) is a non-profit organization that serves families and children who are impacted by the incarceration of a loved one. They offer a variety of programs, resources, and services that include transportation, video visitation, children’s programming, and referrals for inmates and families alike. AFOI recognizes that many of these families and children are cast into a foreboding system with little knowledge of its workings, and are left to pick up the pieces and move forward without their loved one. Fran elaborates, “These families will always have a shared history of crime and courts, jails and prisons with their family members. And while their loved one serves their time away, these families cope with a life-altering separation that was not of their own doing”.
Fran and her organization does its best to maintain supportive ties between family members and offenders while they serve their term, as strengthening these connections provide better chances for a successful reentry into the family and the communities. Such successful reentry leads to lower recidivism and return rates, thereby increasing public safety, leading to healthier, happier, and more vibrant communities.
Fran has faced many challenges during her career. In addition to the social hurdles of age, gender, and race, she also had to go through the conventional challenges that come with running a non-profit organization – funding, development, growth, and staffing. Describing her challenges, she says, “Over two decades I have come to learn that we are not a cause that all can understand. I have learned to flex and adapt, but I have also learned to stand my ground. We must advocate for the families we serve, and sometimes that requires a more difficult position.“
Fran has received much appreciation along her way. She has a message for everyone who dreams big – “Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do but also remember the importance of self-care. Recognize that compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma are real and when you need it, take the time to feed and replenish your soul.”