06/20/2013 06:18 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Would you befriend an ex-inmate?

A new program in Abbotsford hopes that groups of community volunteers will help newly-released inmates re-integrate into society.

The M2/W2 Association, a faith-based organization, has been sending volunteers into Fraser Valley correctional institutes to befriend inmates since 1966, but this is the first time it has attempted to officially extend the relationships beyond release.

The plan is to assign four to six volunteers to each inmate in the weeks leading up to his or her release. That support circle would then meet with the ex-prisoner on a regular basis for 18 months.

Colette Squires, director of program development for the M2/W2 Association, says the weeks following an inmate's release can be extremely challenging.

"It's almost like Rip Van Winkle awakening from sleep and walking out into a new world where they're frightened, they're extremely stressed, they can't handle the technology; the simplest things that we know how to do are tough for them," Squires said in an interview with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

"So it's very, very difficult and they have a criminal record so people don't trust them, they don't want to rent houses or homes or apartments or give them jobs."

The program will work with offenders who have served extended sentences, usually 10 years and longer. Squires says it will make life easier for newly-released inmates while bolstering public safety.

"To know that there will be people there to be their friends, just to go out for coffee... to help them with life challenges, that's huge because a lot of these people, by the time they leave prison, don't have strong connections with family," she said.

"If a person is alone, they're far more vulnerable to re-commit offenses and end up back in prison so it's really a public safety initiative as well as something for the inmate. It really is about creating safer communities."

The M2/W2 Association is holding a meeting for prospective volunteers tonight at the Rick Hanson Secondary School library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Early Edition, hosted by Rick Cluff, is on the air every weekday morning between 5:30 a.m. and 8:37 a.m. on CBC Radio One. 88.1 FM / 690 AM in Metro Vancouver.