About Us

A Brighter Way

Our Goal:

The overall goal of A Brighter Way is help people to find stability in Washtenaw County by providing mentoring and other services that promote communication skills; job retention; and an increased capacity to build, maintain, and utilize a social support network after incarceration. ABW utilizes one-on-one and group mentoring to achieve its desired outcomes.

Mission and Values:

A Brighter Way believes that every person deserves:

Hope | Respect | Support

Who we are

How we got started:

A Brighter Way (ABW) was started by three friends with first-hand experience with the challenges of coming back from prison and have now found success. We faced old neighborhoods, old friends, and old family members- the same systems that were in place before we were locked up – but we were on a mission to do something different. We know what it is like to check the felony box on job applications, what it is like to not get a callback, and what it is like to want to give up.

While our paths were different, we found that the common thread in our success was allowing ourselves to build our social support network.

A Brighter Way was started to provide dedicated support to men and women returning home from prison and jail. We are an independent community resource that believes in the importance of building a community that respects and empowers all of its citizens.

Who We Are:

A Brighter Way was founded by formerly incarcerated people but includes community members from all walks of life. The common theme among us is stability and knowing that we are all continuing to work being the best version of ourselves that we can. Our past cannot be changed, but we refuse to let our future be limited by it.

Board of Directors:

  • Al Newman, Board President, comes from a career in the for-profit business world and is now very involved in the non-profit community of Washtenaw County.
  • Pat Shields, Vice President, is retired from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research where he was Director of Development
  • Laurence O’Connell, Treasurer
  • Bryan Weinert is Director of Strategy at Recycle Ann Arbor and a leader in the faith-based Community
  • Kim Thomas is a Professor with the University of Michigan Law Clinic with a specialty in criminal law with adults and children
  • Melvin Henley is from NEW Center and supports non-profits in capacity building
  • Ashley McClosky is Associate Director of Development at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business
  • Bonnie Billups is Executive Director of Peace Neighborhood Center
  • Aaron Suganuma is the Executive Director of A Brighter Way and a prison-based substance abuse counselor.


  • Our mentors are a mix of people who have been to jail and prison and people who have not. Each mentor has gone through a 7-hour training that focuses on building healthy/supportive relationships that help people set goals for themselves.
  • Ongoing learning opportunities and supervision from a clinical social worker are available to all ABW mentors.


  • ABW is grateful for to the United Way of Washtenaw County for initial funding and another family foundation that wishes to remain anonymous at this time. We are generally supported by private donations – and every little bit counts!
  • Funding helps to support materials for mentor trainings, supplies given to mentees, social activities, participant meetings, and staffing (though to date, ABW is a fully volunteer-run organization).