Roxanne Jones holds on to the good times.
You might stop by in the evenings and she’ll be dancing and singing to Gladys Knight or Patti LaBelle. In the fall, you’ll find her cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers. She’ll quickly talk about the most recent games and can easily rattle off names like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris.
Jones spends the day as a community outreach coordinator for Charlottesville’s Department of Human Services. She helps people in need find and navigate services — and she’s particularly skilled at the work because of her personal experience.
Jones spent time in prison in the 1990s from an addiction to crack cocaine, an experience that’s shaped her life and career ever since.
Displaced from the Vinegar Hill neighborhood when it was razed by the city, Jones grew up in Westhaven, a public housing site. She decided to be a “career girl” and worked at the University of Virginia and at banks in the city before falling into her addiction.
Jones said she saw others around her using the drug and was sucked into it. Once she was sent to prison, she started to confront her issues.
Jones relied on her faith to overcome addiction and hasn’t relapsed since her release in 1995.
“Anything that controls you like that, you need to do something about,” she said. “Making that change in my life allowed me to be reintroduced to new and different people who walked the walk I wanted to walk.”
After being released, Jones worked as an intake secretary for the Virginia Cares program. She’s also worked with Offender Aid and Restoration and other services to help those in need.
Rather than focus on advancing a career, Jones decided to be “a community asset” and “a resource.” She’s worked with a slew of local agencies and organizations, always seeking to help those struggling as she did.
Jones became a first-time homebuyer after her release and completed a master’s degree in criminal justice.
Jones has forged her path so clients can connect with someone who deeply understands their struggle. She can give background on different support agencies and an overview of what to expect.
“Because of my addiction and my struggle, I always wanted to come back to my community and give back,” she said. “One of my challenges in trying to recover was having nobody as counselors who understood or looked like me, who had been in my shoes.”
Charles Alexander, known in his educational work with children as Mr. Alex-Zan, has known Jones since she was a teenager and said she has a wide web of connections. He said that a few years ago he connected Jones with a woman on the verge of losing her job and struggling with health and substance-abuse issues.
Soon after, the woman had a license, was enrolled in addiction courses and had her life back on track.
“She can offer people a path on the way to some sense of order,” Alexander said of Jones. “She’s humble enough to be able to share it.”
Human Services Director Kaki Dimock said Jones is an ideal example of the city’s push for peer navigators to help community members navigate services. Dimock said Jones is contacted for a variety of situations and can quickly connect with those who are struggling in life.
“That really helps somebody understand the hurdles or barriers someone is going to face,” Dimock said. “For somebody who is reaching out asking for help, knowing that the person helping you has had that experience can build the bridge of trust faster.”
Dimock said Jones does more than just give clients a phone number and address. She helps to build confidence and provides support to those in need.
“I just think Roxanne is a community rock star, and we’re delighted to have her,” Dimock said.
Alexander said Jones is a “foot soldier” in the community and is focused on “serving and helping people.” Her experience in the criminal justice system makes her an excellent adviser and resource, he said.
“Going through the criminal justice system allowed her to really get an insight on who the players were and the issues and concerns that were facing those folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system and those folks who might potentially be going in,” he said. “They’ll be able to relate because she’ll be able to share her story with their experiences and readily have a connection.”