Alvis celebrates 50 years and thousands of success stories.

Just a couple years' incarceration can nearly destroy a person's ability to re-enter society. Denise Robinson, president and CEO of Columbus' Alvis Inc., firmly supports her agency's vision thata person's potential is more important than his or her past.

With the proper encouragement and tools, she says, former inmates can turn their lives around 180 degrees. “If there's anything that keeps me up at night, it's that we were not able to serve someone,” she says.

Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency that for 50 years has offered re-entry treatment programs for those who have spent time in the criminal justice system. Alvis also serves people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who seek independence.

Beginning as a halfway house in 1967, Alvis was a 15-bed facility in a single house serving fewer than 60 men its first year. Since Robinson took over as CEO in 2005, Alvis' services and facilities have grown dramatically. “I like being able to have the vision and be strategic in my way of thinking,” she says.

Today, the agency operates in 13 locations in Columbus, Chillicothe, Dayton, Lima and Toledo. It will open its 14th location, the Alvis Pages Recovery and Treatment Center, in April on Livingston Avenue in Columbus. Alvis serves about 8,000 people per year, providing assessments, case management, workforce development, substance-abuse counseling and more.

In the late 1970s, Alvis expanded into services for the developmentally disabled because of needs in the community. “Alvis is committed to treating the whole person so they can re-enter communities successfully,” Robinson says. Alvis had roughly $7 million in annual revenue when Robinson began as CEO. By the end of 2017, Alvis is projected to have more than $30 million.

Robinson has been passionate about helping others her entire life. As a student at Ohio State University, she worked at Wittwer Hall, which was Alvis' only developmentally disabled program at the time. She learned that developmentally disabled people were being incarcerated and then abused in prison, and she was determined to do something about it.

Alvis' community corrections and re-entry programs focus on changing behavior in real world settings. Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, strongly advocates investing in community corrections programs such as Alvis, which he says are “twice as effective at one-third the cost.”

More than 92 percent of clients who successfully complete Alvis' residential program remain out of the criminal justice system one year after completion. Three years after completing Alvis' residential program, 79 percent of its clients were successful, compared to a national success rate of just over 50 percent. Alvis has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the entire country.

“Three words come to mind when I think of (Robinson's) leadership style—passionate, determined and visionary,” says Sandra Neely, senior vice president at Nationwide Insurance and the secretary of Alvis' board of trustees. “She is passionate about the Alvis organization and its clients and mission. It comes through in all she does.”

Robinson sees opportunities and is not afraid to pursue them, Neely says. “This has allowed the organization to be opportunistic and nimble in a way that maybe others haven't been.”

Contracts for services with federal, state and local government agencies support Alvis, along with donations from individuals and organizations.

Robinson is tremendously proud of Alvis' accomplishments in its 50-year history. The agency will celebrate the anniversary with a series of events.

“It is important to Alvis that we thank and honor everyone who supported and helped us get to where we are today,” Robinson says. “Together, we are celebrating serving hundreds of thousands of lives changed from our programs and services.”

Scott Rawdon is a freelance writer.