Oh what a month! I know that February is traditionally the month of love, but for COIPP it has been the month of BUSY! Always hard to know where to begin, but here are some memories that stand out.
Coffee with COIPP
February was a time of learning! One of our ongoing initiatives is Coffee with COIPP. We meet weekly at Grace United Church of Christ, and are open to anyone who has been impacted by incarceration or is in rehabilitation. We have a series of twelve weekly classes thanks to the great skills of Sally Smith and Patty McCardle and a number of volunteers. It is a time of learning, because every session, be it focused on music therapy, art, trauma and its effects, getting a job, self concept building, etc., always include how the the topic helps with reconnecting with one’s children. Our group differs in number of participants from week to week, but the evaluations are always great. It is not only the learning that takes place in the session; it is the learning that takes place afterwards. One of our participants, upon learning of our scholarships with Frederick Community College (FCC), is now going for her GED. Another one of our participants was given our Fall scholarship for classes and a different participant, who learned about us by being at the original office space we used when we got started, received another. This is all done with the support received by the Frederick Women’s Giving Circle. Three members of the group went with Patty to the FCC tea that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement, and many have applied for and received scholarships for themselves and/or their children at the Delaplaine Arts Center, one of our partners. We are changing the experiences of participants, one opportunity at a time.
Parenting from Afar
February was a month of growing! For the first time, COIPP expanded it’s Parenting From Afar classes to the men in the jail. Thanks to Brandon Chapman and Andrew Murphy, we are trying out our original Parenting from Afar curriculum with males in the jail. Both of our teachers are young, empathetic, have young children of their own- and are non judgmental folks who know how to engage with the class participants. As they share, they are also seeing if our curriculum, created by women of COIPP, can work for the men. In addition to the men’s group, we are continuing with our Reconnecting Class, for those soon to be released. It is held monthly for the men in jail and for the men and women of Work Release. The new growth here is that the wonderful Cindi Diamondstone has now joined me in leading these classes. It is great to have another voice- and to have someone who can do this on her own if I am not able. In our February class we had eight men who each brought honesty and reflection as they prepared to rejoin the children in their lives. One of the things i do is read aloud the children’s book: The Rabbit Listened, It is touching when a roomful of men become silent, reflective- and then ask that the book be mailed to their children. What added to this month’s class was when one of the men shared that he is also in Brandon and Andrew’s class, and it has already changed the way he parents his children. He talked about using the curriculum learned to build discussions he has with both his wife and children when they talk on the phone. He encouraged all of the men to sign up the next time the sessions begin. That is just what I hoped would happen. Thanks Cindi- and welcome aboard to the new classes! This is also a great place to mention that growing for us also meant physical growing. A number of hardworking men and women volunteers moved us into a larger storage space for all of our resources. I was just there last night and cannot get over the fact that we have gone from our original 5 X 10 space to our current one that is 10 X 30—and it is filled. Now that is a sure sign of growth!
February was a time of activities! This month we took on two children’s activities for the month, focusing for the first time on one activity for the family and one for the older children. We went to Spinners for the older children, a pinball non-profit establishment on East Street. (Thanks Allie for suggesting it and doing the work to get it going!) We had twenty-one children at bowling and then seven at pinball. We always welcome caregivers, provide lunch, and leave incarceration behind for the afternoon. These activities are all about having a great time. Mel Rogers, representing the Mental Health Association (MHA) and our Families Impacted by Incarceration Program (FIIP), is often present to share with families and encourage their working with the MHA. Nothing but rave activity reviews!
February was a time of love
My very favorite activity takes place in February. We go into the Frederick County Adult Detention Center (FCADC) for an afternoon. We bring in stuffed animals that allow the women participating to record a personal message to the children in their lives and, when the battery with the message is placed in the animal, a child can hear their important adult’s voice as they hug the stuffed animal. While some participants work on their recordings, others make valentine’s cards. When done, we take boxes with each card and stuffed animal right to the post office and mail it right out to the children. I have had children tell me two years later that the stuffed animal is still their favorite- and they listen to the recorded voice time and time again before they go to bed. In April, we are hoping to do the same project with the men. I know it will have the excitement and emotion shared by the women.
February was a time for spreading the word!
It felt to me that every day was another speaking engagement. These included: Church of the Transformation in Braddock Heights; DSS Kinship Meeting in Hagerstown, MD.; Judy Center Professional Development State Meeting held in Howard County; Evangelical Lutheran Church in Frederick, and the Housing Authority workshop on Loss. Each group is different, but each is so interested in our work. For some it is a workshop and for others it is a general discussion about this national, state and county issue. I am always happy to share.
I look to March and wonder where it will take us. We have our retreat with Pat Hanberry, thanks to the Ausherman Foundation, we have new children’s activities, we have a new cycle of Coffee With COIPP meetings, and even more speaking engagements. Stay tuned- I know I will have new things to share!