ComCor community corrections becomes Embrave, prepares to expand with services for homeless

For nearly 40 years the Colorado Springs nonprofit ComCor Inc. has held the belief that people can and do change, and now the organization itself is changing, with a new name and new services for homeless residents in mind.

“We’ve always worked in El Paso County in some of the most challenging issues our community faces, including crime and public safety as well as chemical dependency and drug use, and we really wanted to position ourselves to do more of that,” Embrave Executive Director Mark Wester said in an interview.

A 15-month rebranding process produced the name Embrave, which Wester said better represents what the organization does through its residential rehabilitation and treatment programs for offenders who exit prison or those court-ordered in lieu of serving time.

ComCor Inc. confused many people, Wester said.

“Our name was so closely tied to the industry of community corrections that people often referred to community corrections in Colorado as ComCor,” he said.

Embrave means “to make excellent or fine, inspire with bravery and make bold, daring and courageous,” according to dictionary definitions.

The word describes what the organization strives to accomplish with its clients, Wester said, in helping them find jobs, get clean and sober, learn healthy coping strategies and navigate daily life better.

“Because we deal with clients who’ve gotten into trouble with the law, have chemical dependency and substance use disorder issues, ‘embrave’ is what they are trying to do — improve their lives — and that takes a lot of courage and bravery,” he said.

The rebranding cost about $130,000, according to Wester.

The organization hosted a Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday at its headquarters off Mark Dabling Boulevard.

Clients described in a video how Embrave inspired them to achieve goals.

“The way I see myself now after receiving support from Embrave is alive again,” one client said.

Rebranding is the first step in steering the organization on a path of new beginnings, Wester said.

He took the organization’s helm in 2019, replacing Sean McDougall, whom the FBI was investigating for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from the nonprofit, which contracts with the state and El Paso County to house and rehabilitate felons.

“I was hired to clean up the mess he left,” Wester said.

It’s unclear whether McDougall has faced any criminal charges.

“I know we alerted the authorities and cooperated with them,” Wester said.

Its first-ever acquisition came in February, when Embrave bought Colorado Health Services, which provides urinalysis testing for people on parole and probation, juveniles in the state’s youth offender system and others.

Embrave’s operations previously spread across five properties, most along North Nevada Avenue. But in 2020 when the organization completed renovating its largest residential complex at 3615 Roberts Road, it consolidated three facilities into that location.

The consolidation left two sites for residential rehabilitation of up to 270 clients and non-residential follow-up care for another 50 clients, which Wester said made operations more efficient.

Now, the organization is looking at redeveloping those vacant properties for new programs.

In January 2022, Embrave’s empty old motel property at 3808 N. Nevada Ave. was transformed into a COVID-19 isolation shelter for infected and sick homeless people.

But the majority of the rooms at the facility, named City Hope, temporarily housed well homeless families. The operation closed five months ago.

“It was hard to get funds to keep it going, and when grant dollars dried up, we raised one-third of a million dollars to continue operating from September through January,” Wester said. “We were able to get the remaining families into housing, and we felt the mission was complete.”

Embrave is seeking funding to redevelop that site and the other two shuttered properties, he said.

For example, the organization is applying for Medicaid certification to possibly open a permanent respite center for homeless people recovering from hospitalization.

The city’s only respite center for convalescing homeless people, Ascending to Health, once again has temporarily closed its center but is operating a “scatter site,” said Ruben, a medical assistant who answered the phone on Tuesday.

The organization is contracting with Penrose Hospital to put people recovering from hospital stays into hotels with visiting nursing care. The setup can accommodate up to 12 patients, he said.

Ascending to Health also paused its services in July 2021 due to financial struggles and reopened in January 2022.

But the city could use a dedicated respite center for homeless people, said Chief Housing Officer Steve Posey.

“Since Mark Wester became the leader of the organization, he has really stepped up his game and reached out to other agencies in the community to explore how Embrave could be a better community partner to all of us,” Posey said.

Wester also is working with Springs Rescue Mission, the city’s largest homeless shelter, to possibly set up on-demand van transportation to shuttle clients of both Embrave and Springs Rescue to appointments, such as job training or getting identification, instead of relying on bus rides.

“That’s what I see Embrave doing moving forward — working with city, county and state governments and agencies to solve difficult problems (in) our community,” Wester said. “We want people to stay out of trouble with the law and not use drugs, and we want to keep the community safe.”

Last year, 60% of Embrave’s clients successfully completed its programs, and 5% reoffended, according to state data. The industrywide recidivism rate is 50%.

This article originally appeared on The Gazette.