Our Mission

REAL LIFE serves individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, homelessness, or substance use disorder by giving them an opportunity to overcome their personal and community barriers that hinder their pathway to a Thriving Life.

Our mission is to develop a relationship with each person we serve (as we refer to them, Lifers) that equips them to make the visible progress necessary for their personal pathway to a Thriving Life. Along the way, we engage the community and bring awareness to the needs of Lifers. Our work meets a standard of accountability we call compelling stewardship that allows us to engage Lifers with a level of service and financial effectiveness seldom seen.


To us, a Lifer is more than just a client, consumer, or patient. At REAL LIFE we refer to those we serve as Lifers because we help them in all aspects of LIFE! We know that when lifers seek change through REAL LIFE, it will be a LIFE long change. We take a holistic approach, because recovery is necessary for LIFE and not just for the moments they are with us! And for that reason, we call them Lifers!

Pathway  Navigator

We once referred to our Pathway Navigators as case managers, but they do so much more than manage a case. Our Lifers are not cases that need to be worked on, but people with value, dignity and contributions to make to their community. Pathway navigators build LIFE long relationships with the Lifers in their care. These relationships lead Lifers down the right path, helping them go from sustaining to thriving. That’s why our Pathway Navigators help with in all aspects of LIFE, from recovery, to job searching, to building self-esteem. Pathway Navigators are the main resource Lifers use to reach their goals and dreams!

Our History

REAL LIFE was founded in 2016 by Dr. Sarah Scarbrough as a response to the growing number of challenges faced by men and women exiting incarceration in Richmond, Virginia.

As Program Director in the Richmond City Justice Center (RCJC), or the City Jail, from 2013 to 2017, Dr. Scarbrough and her staff continued to receive multiple calls each week relating to the obstacles faced by returning citizens who were a part of The REAL (Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles) Program, the nationally and internally recognized behavior modification program, when they were incarcerated.

While The REAL Program, created by Dr Scarbrough under former Sheriff C.T. Woody, Jr., highly prepared someone for success upon release from incarceration back into the community, the number of challenges post-release hindered success for many. Obstacles such as lack of cell phones or bus tickets hindered many people’s ability to even apply for a job. Lack of safe and stable housing often resulted in individuals either sleeping on the street or going back to the crack house they previously lived in. While these are just a few of the many obstacles faced, they are severe enough to put someone back into the same situations they found themselves in prior to their incarceration, contributing to starting the cycle of addiction and incarceration, yet again.

As such, REAL LIFE was founded to address the aforementioned needs as best as possible. Operating with volunteers for the first two years of existence, REAL LIFE was only able to assist individuals in need in a small manner, such as through helping with resumes or providing cell phones or bus tickets.  And, the help was only available to those who were exiting incarceration from The REAL Program in Richmond. However, over the two year period, we continued to realize the need was much bigger than what we had the manpower and infrastructure to manage; this includes the needs of those we were currently helping, as well as those who were homeless, battling a substance use disorders, or exiting incarceration from other jails or prisons. We received many calls from individuals in need and probation officers and counselors in various jails and prisons – all asking for our help. We knew REAL LIFE had to do more.

As an initial response, we opened a recovery house for men in April 2017. This enabled us to provide much needed housing for those without funds to access housing elsewhere, whether it be independent living or at other recovery houses. The REAL House provides an opportunity for a fresh start through a structured and safe environment to men who otherwise would be homeless or living in very undesirable and unsafe conditions. (Now, we have 3 houses: 2 for men and 1 for women).

Yet, we knew the house was just the first step, as it was not near enough. There were many others in dire need of assistance. As such, through strategic planning and discussion together with the Wheless Family Stewardship Fund and other community partners, we established the REAL Life Community Center (RLCC) in December 2017. This was REAL LIFE’s first opportunity to be able to serve anyone (over 18 years old) who desired change.

Our primary objective of the RLCC is to serve individuals with a desire to overcome a substance use disorder, homelessness, or former incarceration. It is our goal to help equip each person we serve, in order for them to walk toward a thriving life.  The unique attribute of the Community Center is providing clients with a path to thriving, not just recovery.  It is the idea of recovering to something greater than what was lost. We do this by providing a pathway to a thriving future through cultivating stronger families, gaining meaningful employment, and improving personal interaction skills, while building a foundation of faith – we term this REAL LIFE’s Five Pillars of Thriving.

Individuals who desire a catalyst for overcoming their adversities, leading to a pathway to a thriving future are welcome to the Center during hours of operation. Clients meet with their assigned Pathway Navigator in order to develop a holistic planned designed specifically for them, which walk them step by step to a thriving life. Almost all services are provided within the Center, as it is designed to be a “one stop shop.”

All services at the Center are provided free of charge.

Since opening the Center, we have opened two more recovery transitional houses; currently we operate two male houses and one female house.

We are excited about our success we have seen during the time we have been open, and even more so the increased effectiveness we have experienced. As we continue to see the obstacles and struggles of men and women in our community, REAL LIFE continues to grow and build upon these successes.


Board & Members

Dr. Sarah Scarbrough, ex-officio member
Founder and Director

Elaine Minor, Chair
Richmond Police Department

Anand Francis, Vice Chair
Capital One

Tanya Warren, Secretary
Carmax Foundation

Allen Bowman, Treasurer
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond


Jamal Brooks
VCU School of Social Work Graduate, Community Volunteer

Julie Dime
Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association

Phil Hernandez, Esq.
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis

Chelsea Rarrick
Markel Corporation

C.T Woody, Jr.
Former City of Richmond Sheriff, Community Volunteer