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Heart-to-Heart: Comienzos East is a nonprofit organization located in Merchantville, New Jersey that offers transformative education in jails, prisons, and communities.


OUR MISSION IS TO ProvidE transformative education in jails, prisons, and communities

Since the late 1980’s Comienzos has worked in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Two Catholic Sisters, Mary Jo Boland and Natalie Rossi, left their roles as educators in schools in response to a call to work with incarcerated men. For several years they researched the best practices in ministry and education in jails and prisons.Out of this research they devised Comienzos, which means “beginnings.” They dedicated decades of their lives to leading Comienzos, teaching skills and bringing dignity and lasting freedom to incarcerated men and women.

In 1998, Stephen Michael Tumolo began working with Sister Mary Jo at the MDC. In 2007, William Poehner joined Comienzos. Through the leadership of William, Stephen Michael, Cliff Wilkie, Comienzos grew from a program to a multi -faceted organization–forming a Board of Directors, growing its programs, diversifying its funding, and incorporating as a nonprofit organization, and receiving 501(c)3 status.

Stephen Michael moved back to his roots in southern New Jersey where he met Steffen Weiberle and Susan Weiss at the Starting Point where Steffen was leading trainings in Nonviolent Communication as developed by Dr.Marshall Rosenberg. There was an immediate sense of something powerful happening in this connection. Susan and Stephen Michael shared their dreams of living “increasingly free and fruitful lives.” A common interest was growing in freedom through serving others who desire the same, especially men and women who are physically incarcerated.

Heart-to- Heart began as a trinity of persons when Stephen Michael and Susan met Cassie MacDonald of Camden, New Jersey. Meeting at Brigid’s House next to Sacred Heart Church they gathered frequently for mutual support, learning, and healing. There they shared their dreams of peace in the world and how they might be agents of peace.

Around this time, Stephen Michael met Bayside State Prison Chaplain Jon Haslett. Rev. Haslett who requested that Stephen Michael bring “Heart-to- Heart: Comienzos East” to Bayside. Our first prison program on the east coast began there in 2010