Christine and Toni in class

Our Story

Creation of the Ascend Program

It all started simply enough. Two attorneys fiercely determined to help people ended up at the same criminal law firm. After years of practice, both became disillusioned by the inability of the system to help people effect positive change in their lives. They were also dwarfed by the enormous amount of suffering they saw in their daily practice. A fast friendship was born as the duo started looking for ways to better the lives of their clients and guide them out of the system for good.

Time and time again, Christine and Toni had clients complete programs only to return to old, troublesome behaviors. The programs to which the clients had access were clearly not working in the long term but the judges never looked at the validity or effectiveness of the programming.

Most judges, overworked, overburdened and with few options, would assume that the program was effective (without data or science to back up that assumption) and place 100% blame on the client. This often resulted in harsher sentences for clients who had tried programs and failed.

Christine and Toni saw this lack of program evaluation as the equivalent of getting rid of professor evaluations in a college. Can you imagine if we had colleges turning out a 67% failure rate, we had NO student evaluations, we just ASSUMED that the professors were effective, and we blamed the students? In California, 67% of people coming out of incarceration will return to crime. Yet there is little to no third party verified data or measurement outcomes determining what programs work.

Christine and Toni saw this phenomenon play out over and over. Over the years, they intensified their search for effective rehabilitation options that would help clients towards long-term change. They found none.

Through a shared determination to salvage people from suffering and a certainty that they could craft an effective and innovative solution, the duo set out to create a rehabilitation program unlike anything seen before.

Being attorneys, each was already comfortable with taking in large amounts of information, distilling what would help their cause, consulting experts and finding creative solutions. This was the path that they took when creating Ascend.

Christine and Toni combined their experience from their two individual backgrounds with the experience they had working together in criminal law and co-founded the Ascend Program (www.ascendprogram.com).

Ascend is a non-profit rehabilitation program that helps people learn, among other things, the steps that our brains take when making a decision. Ascend utilizes science-backed practices to help people effect change. As attorneys, Christine and Toni were naturally used to looking for proof that a method would work before utilizing it. They also knew intuitively that their intuition about what was needed was correct but they wanted validation. They were looking to change peoples' lives, after all. This is serious business. With that in mind, they knew they needed experts to look at their creative, innovative programming ideas, confirm that their methods would be backed by science and track their progress.

Christine and Toni consulted Sacramento State University’s criminal justice department about Ascend at the program’s inception. Researchers were intrigued and began studying the likely effectiveness of this promising new program. That was in August of 2011.

Ascend is now a flourishing program that has been billed by researchers, after a careful study of participants, as a “model for the nation.” The University continues to publish papers on Ascend and has presented the program in two national criminal justice conferences.

Ascend's curriculum, and the classes, tackle hard core subjects that are taught at a college level. Christine and Toni never doubted that their students could perform at this level and they were not disappointed!

For certain classes, guest speakers were brought in to teach difficult concepts in exciting ways. Below is one of the guest speakers leading students through an exercise on peer influence. This guest teacher is literally a rocket scientist turned charter school teacher who came into give a special lesson to Ascend students.

 

Christine and Toni also realized that the difficult classes needed to be punctuated by times where learning came through fun activities. Additionally, they knew that mindfulness and yoga would be beneficial in enhancing learning. Researchers noted that Ascend's method of teaching, it's curriculum, the holistic nature of the program, the trust that the clients had in the program providers and the hope that was instilled in them, among other positive attributes, was astonishing.

Christine and Toni worked their shared love of rock climbing (a sport rich with motivational methaphors) and yoga/mindfulness into Ascend. Climbing even provided the inspiration for the program's name and it's tag line (Ascend: Reach Your Potential). When Christine and Toni were creating Ascend's curriculum and program, they did much of their brainstorming in session after session of climbing...

 

Soon afterwards, class participants would be taking those first steps up a climbing wall at the local climbing gym that sponsors them. While many are apprehensive at first, clients end up LOVING the climbing. You can see video of it at www.ascendprogram.com. Talk about "reaching" your potential. Yoga rounded out the "fun" part of the curriculum.

 

Christine and Toni not only created the program but took a hands-on approach in teaching and directing the program. They obtained specialized training in cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, criminogenic risk factors, and criminal thinking styles among other things. As it turns out, their experience working in criminal law combined with their innovative ideas and approach to rehabilitation made Ascend a powerhouse in guiding people to effective, positive change.

The community recognized this positive change and Christine, Toni and Ascend received positive attention. The California Legislature awarded Ascend a Resolution for providing effective rehabilitation and increasing public safety. They would also end up testifying for the California legislature on issues of effective rehabilitation. Multiple front page newspaper stories followed. Sacramento State University presented their program as a "model for the nation" at national criminal justice conferences. They even did a Tedx talk to a crowd of 500 at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, California.

 

 

 

Trainings, Curriculum and Workbooks for People on Probation and Parole and Rehabilitation Professionals

Christine and Toni realized that they wanted to help far more people than could be reached through attending the Ascend program so they began creating a workbook version of their teachings that people on probation and parole could do on their own.

They also began conducting trainings for other rehabilitation professionals (probation and parole officers, workforce development professionals, social workers and others who worked in the community). They have also created a several workbooks and training manuals to allow professionals to teach the program.

Personal Growth Tools for Everyone!

Throughout this process, Christine and Toni learned that a lot of their innovations and teachings on decision making and life balance began helping THEM, and their staff, grow and develop more success in their own lives. As a result, Christine and Toni developed a  workbook and a one day training retreat to bring this knowledge to other busy professionals who could benefit from a new approach to balance.

So many of us have excessive workloads, excessive responsibilities, not enough time, and too much do. Yet we keep striving. Even though we do not have struggles with poverty or personal involvement in crime, our brains are still taxed heavily each day. Portions of the teachings and curriculum created by Christine and Toni are applicable to ALL OF US. These tools can help enhance success and life balance for all of us. Is it time to find a way for a little self-care? Peace? Awareness?

Humans Advancing Together

Christine and Toni have made many connections through their innovative approach to rehabilitation. They have learned of others who have had their own innovative and effective approaches to helping people. Christine and Toni are still learning, striving and creating. They needed a place to make this information available to all people looking to advance their lives...from wherever they are starting.

They founded Humans Advancing Together in recognition of the truth that we all learn from each other, that a rising lake raises all boats and that we all deserve to be the best of ourselves and get the very best out of our lives.

Meet the Founders

Want to know more about Christine and Toni?

Christine Morse, J.D.

Co-Founder

As a lawyer, Christine has worked in diverse areas, including education, legislation, bankruptcy and criminal defense. Ascend and rehabilitation programming combine her passion for education and criminal law because it helps move people away from crime through education.

She believes that supporting people to reach their potential in living fulfilling lives increases the quality and the safety of the whole community.

Christine received her bachelor's degree in journalism at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She has traveled extensively beginning with her solo trip to Argentina as a young woman where she taught ESL classes. She then attended McGeorge School of Law where she graduated with her juris doctorate degree and passed the California bar exam on her first attempt.

Christine still loves to travel when she is able. She loves to write, has had her articles published and is writing a novel in her tiny amount of spare time. She works to achieve life balance through eating healthy, practicing mindfulness, yoga and exercising. She is quick to tell you that she hates exercise - specifically running. But she still does it! Some of her happiest, most meditative and joyful moments happen when she is snorkeling.

Christine is an expert at teaching all of Ascend's curriculum but she finds great enjoyment in teaching money management. Drawing upon her natural talent for finance and her extensive experience with people struggling with poverty and bankruptcy, Christine is particularly adept at teaching money management to the students. She not only teaches them about budgeting and management techniques, but gives them a broader view of how slick marketing can lure them into make bad decisions that keep them stuck in poverty. Students LOVE Christine's finance teachings.

Christine is an outgoing, charismatic person with a big heart but she is quick to hold people accountable when she sees it as the pathway to their personal development. These characteristics make her an effective and beloved leader to the clients and students she helps.

Toni White, J.D.

Co-Founder

Toni is a lawyer who has dedicated her entire career (16 years and counting) to criminal defense work. After seeing the same clients return over and over in her legal practice, Toni is thrilled to have the opportunity to help her clients finally achieve healthy, happy, crime-free lives.

Toni received her bachelor's degree from University of California, Santa Barbara with a major in political science and a minor in Japanese language. She subsequently attended McGeorge School of Law where she received her juris doctorate degree and passed the California bar exam on her first attempt. She then began practicing criminal defense law.

Toni has been a vegetarian for 20 years and is passionate about eating healthy, organic food. She loves adventure and finds great peace through outdoor activities. She is happiest when sitting atop a mountain, kayaking on a glassy lake watching the sunset or doing yoga in a quiet meadow.

Toni is an expert at teaching all of Ascend's curriculum but she is incredibly passionate about teaching law both to the students in Ascend and people trying to avoid re-entry into the criminal system. She brings a dynamic energy to all of her teachings often following up a multi-hour law teaching session with the use props and games that get the students laughing as they learn how to apply the law they just learned. She teaches them the law of "guilt by association" so that they understand the danger in being involved with people doing risky behaviors so that they can avoid sticky situations that could lead them to unintentionally getting involved in crime in the future. She also has a deep compassion, empathy and authenticity that draws students to her.

Next Steps...

If you are a rehabilitation professional interested in a training or workbook course to enhance your rehabilitation programming, a person on probation or parole interested in leaving the life of crime for good or a busy professional interested in learning some amazing decision making tools to take your successful life to the next level...email Toni at toni@humansadvancingtogether.org.

If you are interested in learning more about the successful Ascend program, go to www.ascendprogram.com.

If you are on probation or parole and looking for rehabilitation workbooks and support, keep your eyes open for the soon-to-be-launched United Ladies of Justice website at www.unitedladiesof justice.org.