This month we have a guest blog post from Melissa Radcliff, Program Director of Our Children’s Place of Coastal Horizons Center, Inc. Our Children’s Place is a statewide program, based in the Triangle, that serves as North Carolina’s leading advocate and educational resource focused on children of incarcerated and returning parents. They work to create a community where children of incarcerated and returning parents are recognized and supported rather than shamed and stigmatized, and encouraged to share their stories.
Melissa is extremely passionate about her work and this month shares her experience from a Parent Day event held earlier in the year at Orange Correctional Center.
“Lunch was my favorite part!” “I liked beating my dad at Connect 4!” “The books were great!”
This is some of what the kids shared as part of our closing “what I liked best about the day” circle at Parent Day.
It’s a combination we don’t often think about: children, parents in prison, and books. Yet for 25 children and 10 fathers, Parent Day provided them with an extended time period to visit, talk, work on craft projects, and eat lunch together, select from a book display (which competed with homemade mac and cheese and Rice Krispie treats, corn hole, and art supplies!), and learn more about each other.
The book display at Parent Day is truly the epitome of community involvement. Volunteers conducted a mini book drive, sorted and displayed the books based on age and topic, made cloth book bags for the kids to take home, and helped the kids pick out the perfect books. One of the volunteers said one child’s “eyes lit up” when the volunteer found her a certain book. Another child was just tickled when she learned that she could take home a whole series.
Meanwhile the fathers showed the importance of learning, reading, and books by encouraging their children to look at the display and pick out their favorites, learned what their children are interested in (which could be a topic for a future visit, phone call, or letter), and had a chance to read with their children, an opportunity children of incarcerated parents often miss out on. The fathers were also invited to write notes inside the books so the children would have a message and reminder of the day to read when they arrived home. Hopefully for those families who participated, exploring the local library is something they can do together when the parent is released.
For many of us, we think of a library as a brick and mortar community resource. However, twice a year (spring and fall) at Orange Correctional Center, “library” becomes a moving entity, one that extends into a prison and may look different than what we’re accustomed to, but which serves as another valuable tool to support the relationship between children and their incarcerated parents.
For more information about this program you can reach Melissa Radcliff at firstname.lastname@example.org.