As I woke up this morning and realized we were already beginning the month of June, I could not have been more amazed at how fast the month of May rolled by. Once again, there have been so many highlights, I will take this opportunity to speak to only a few. These really stood out for me.
Trip to Thorpewood
Have you ever been there? Tucked away in the woods of Thurmont, there is probably not a more beautiful place in Frederick. Thanks to the support of Julie and Sam Castleman and the wonderful Katie, we were able to bring a group of children up there to spend the day. I got there after our bus had arrived and the first participants I saw were two children I have known for many years. They were suppose to be visiting with their Mom that day who is in prison, but due to a situation that came up, she was not allowed to have visitors.
Her Mom, the children’s grandmother and caregiver, showed me some photos revealing how heart broken they were when she shared the news with them that they could not visit. What I saw as soon as I arrived were two girls who could not have been wearing bigger smiles. One had just taken a hay ride and the other was showing me some fresh warm eggs that were just laid by the resident chickens. As the day went on, all the children ran around the farm buildings, played with the many animals, and found sticks to roast their individual hot dogs and later their marshmallows for s’mores. I am never sure if we are changing lives, but the visit to Thorpewood certainly opened some doors for children that are usually not available to them. What a day!
Recordable Stuffed Animals For the Men
Every Valentine’s Day, the volunteers of COIPP go into the women’s section of the jail and help them record personal messages to their children. These messages are then placed in special stuffed animals that we purchase. Whenever the children hug their stuffed animals they can hear their Mommies’ voice in their ear. In May we had the great opportunity to do the same with the men in the Parenting From Afar class that is facilitated by Brandon Chapman and Andrew Murphy. It was amazing. There was something incredible about seeing grown men record special messages for each of their children, embrace soft stuffed animals, write kind, supportive messages to their children and be touched by this whole process. One man said he felt he was giving himself a gift. Another had difficulty giving up his stuffed animal as we prepared the box for mailing. He just enjoyed hugging the bear! Several men wanted to know how they could help us when they got out, and all of the men kept thanking us.
One particular moment stands out for me. One man was recording a message for his daughter. He was so touched by this experience, he was close to tears and therefore his voice was a bit down . Another man looked at him and said: Don’t do that. She will be worried about you. Make your voice upbeat. Let her know you are okay. The first man immediately redid his message, and thanked the other man who gave him the idea to send a different kind of message. Their camaraderie was so incredible to me. I know there are many stereotypes out there about men in jail. If you want to break those, just join us for one of these evenings.
One of the many things I continue to learn from COIPP is how much our community wants to help us. This is especially touching when the help comes from our Frederick County students. I often do speaking engagements for some school staff members, or am invited into classrooms to share the work of COIPP. The next thing I know is that the children are asking just what they can do.
This month a number of schools did projects to assist us. Thanks goes to Brian Dwyer, Guidance Counselor, and T.J. Middle School for their enormous collection of family hygiene products. Thanks goes to Ashley Freshour, Guidance Counselor, and Middletown Middle School for making blankets for us. Last, but not least, thanks goes to Media Specialist Ann Duncan and the students of Oakdale Middle School, for donating Board books and Spanish books to us. They are perfect fits for our ‘Giving Library’ at the jail and are always needed. In May I continued sharing our mission and vision with the Frederick adult community. One high point was sharing at the Frederick Flute Choir performance this month. Not only was the concert great, but donations to COIPP came to over $700.
As said, lots more went on in May. Thanks to our Ausherman Foundation Grant, we continue to work with the wonderful Pat Hanberry on our Strategic Plan. Every time we meet with Pat, we learn more and more and go farther in our planning. We cannot wait to complete our final plan for all we wish to accomplish in the next five years.
The women’s Parenting From Afar Class had their graduation in mid-May, with many receiving certificates showing that they had attended and contributed in ten sessions. The wonderful part of this is helping the women ‘go shopping’ at the last session and helping them choose books for their children based on their child’s needs, interests and age. We hand pick every book and often have the women do focus groups to see if they think we made good book choices. It is always a treat to have the shopping time. We are sure to mail out the books the very next day- and we only hear wonderful things back.
Again, I could go on and on. Instead I will say that the work of COIPP just fills my heart. If you are interested in helping us, let me know by messaging me through Facebook or writing an email: Coippfrederick@yahoo.com. Lastly, if you would like to support our efforts, be sure to donate to the Unity Campaign, making COIPP recipient of your donation. Our yearly Silent Auction is also coming up on Tuesday,December 3, at McClintock Distillery. Our planning work is already underway and this year’s event is bound to be the very best ever!