- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and several officials visited inmates this week and encouraged them to continue participating in a club that helps them connect and communicate with others.

The governor, the director of the state Department of Correctional Services and a Nebraska senator joined a Monday meeting with around 15 inmates at the State Penitentiary to watch some of them deliver speeches, the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/1Ic4PeY) reported.

“This is a way for people to be constructive in a way they’ve never been before,” state Sen. Al Davis said. “It builds confidence and gives them an idea that they can be something in the real world.”

Sponsors of the INnovators Club say the group allows inmates to learn how to talk with others and appropriately disagree with others’ opinions.

“I’ve never seen anyone who sticks with the club who didn’t say it had a positive effect on their lives,” said sponsor Phil Rooney, who has been coming to the State Penitentiary every other week for years.

Members of the club say it’s still struggling to pay the dues needed to make them official with its parent organization, Toastmasters International. INnovators president Jose Rodriguez pushed officials to make sure the club stays afloat.

“There are men who can come to prison, get out, and get what they need to communicate effectively and contribute to society as a whole,” Rodriguez said.

Toastmaster district director Shellie Pointer, who covers almost all of Nebraska and a sliver of Iowa, said she’s on the verge of starting one at the York Correctional Center for Woman, where they’ve already chosen a name and picked officers.

She hopes to open another one at the Lincoln Correctional Center as well.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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