As I reflect upon the month of March, i keep thinking about our village, our Board members, and how hard everyone is working. Let me share some highlights that may offer insight to our organization. If you’re interested in helping us, please fill out the volunteer application found on this website.
Coffee with COIPP
We recently started this initiative for those recently released from jail and already it is keeping us very busy. We have had groups of 15-18 participants come to some of our weekly Friday meetings. March brought presentations on trauma affected lives, steps for securing a job especially when one has a felony conviction, Visual Journaling, a monthly class held at the Delaplaine Arts Center, and much more. Week after week we continue to receive very high evaluations from participants and we also continue to see the group grow. Hats off, once again, to Patty McCardle, Sally Smith, and Cindi Diamondstone for organizing the weekly sessions, and getting additional assistance from Tracy Grubb and other available volunteers. It takes lots of work for this part of our village to run-and these women continue to be up to the task!
Parenting from Afar
This is a ‘flagship’ part of our program. Cathy Anderson and I have been holding the weekly women’s group for years, and it continues to be a program we could not be prouder to facilitate. As of this writing there are only 19 women, total, in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center, (FCADC). We continue to have classes with participants numbering seven or eight. What is striking are the stories the women share.
For example, one very caring participant talked about her son’s depression since she has gone to jail. This is her first time away from him, and her pain each week is palatable. We cry with her. Another woman, a participant who has returned to us year after year, takes leadership in the group and has become a parenting mentor to so many. Whenever we share a situation for discussion, the women listen to her very intensely.
However, the addition of the men’s group has really altered the way we see parenting classes. The same curriculum that we wrote is being used by Andrew Murphy and Brandon Chapman with the men. Both Cathy Anderson and I attended their last session with their first group of men, and it was fantastic to hear what the men had to say. One participant shared that when he gets back to his cell block, he does a mini lesson with the men who are not attending. He also uses what he is learning for discussion points with his wife and children when they speak on the phone.
One observation I made happened when I read the book The Dot aloud to the men. Though it is a children’s book, the men were mesmerized and later really understood the discussion point which is that we all want our children to leave a positive impression on the world. I cannot wait to meet the next group, and, more importantly, meet with our curriculum committee and Andrew and Brandon to see what we need to edit in order to ensure that we serve the men as well as we serve the women.
Families Impacted by Incarceration Program (FIIP)
Our collaboration with the Mental Health Association (MHA) keeps growing. We are proud to have them as a part of our village. While I have mentioned them in past blogs, it’s important to share their role once again. Through our Maryland State Governors Grant from the past Maryland Office of Families, Children and Youth, our collaboration allows us to do so much. It allows for purchase of resources that we use in the jail, as well as for our workshop materials. It pays for curriculum writing, and, most important of all, it allows for a ‘warm handoff’ between MHA and COIPP. Mel from MHA attends some of the parenting classes, as well as our activities and workshops, and tells parents about how MHA can offer one on one assistance as families work to reconnect after a parent comes home. We love having MHA as a part of our village.
Our monthly activities continue with gusto. This month is was bowling, always a success. Thanks to leaders Sue Guissinger and Gretta Benson, as well as a wide array of volunteers like Theresa, Mark, Delaine, Peggy, and more, we were able to have a great March afternoon. The children,18 in attendance, had a fantastic time with the bowling, pizza and drinks that followed, and the camaraderie of the friends they make as they bowl. We never mention incarceration; this is a time for fun. We love these afternoons and already are planning lots of different activities for the future.
March was the time for the annual Frederick Community College scholarship tea. This year we are proud to have had many recipients, including one of our members from Coffee With COIPP. We have assisted people wanting their GEDs, moms who are raising their children without the dad being present, and those who have had parents in jail. When we first started it was unclear as to whether there would be enough applicants. Now there are so many, we are hopefully raising the number of scholarships offered next year from 5 to 7. Once again, nothing happens without partners. Thanks goes to the Frederick Women’s Giving Circle (FWGC) who have assisted us for many years in partially funding the needed scholarships.
This is the area that I enjoy, but March was overwhelming. I spoke to the National Institute of Mental Health, Frederick chapter, the elementary, middle and high school media specialists, caregivers at the Department of Social services, the United Way Leaders on Loan informational conference, Middletown Methodist Church reading group, and more. While this was exhausting, it was also invigorating. From the caregiver I met at DSS who is a great grandmother raising her 3 great grandchildren, to the media specialists who want to help add to our list of books for older children, the audiences were wonderful. The meetings were powerful.
Board Member Retreat
While i saved this for last, it is far from least. We met in March to talk about how we can grow in the next five years. Thanks to a grant from the Ausherman Foundation and under the excellent leadership of our consultant, Pat Hanberry, we spent a day reviewing our environmental scan that Pat had completed, sharing our strengths and needs, and creating a plan that looks to the future for COIPP. We all agreed that it was a long day filled with self reflection, promise and excitement for the future. The list of what COIPP accomplishes continues to amaze me. The most important thing I have learned is that together we are so much stronger than when we work alone. This month really proved that point.