14 Nov GIVE MIAMI DAY DONORS HELP LOCAL KIDS REUNITE WITH FATHERS IN PRISON

Editorial note: Give Miami Day returns on Thursday, November 15th. Explore organizations working on the causes you care about at GiveMiamiDay.org.

This coming holiday, dozens of families will reunite in an unlikely place, the Everglades Correctional Institution. Kids and caregivers will hop on a bus for the visit organized by Children of Inmates (COI), a local nonprofit that provides inmates and their loved ones with resources and support. These visits are always special, and during the holidays they’re extra meaningful. In some cases, parents meet with their kids for the very first time.

Besides organizing the reunion meet-ups, COI steps in to help families navigate social services and get access to additional resources, such as support groups, trainings and transportation to afterschool activities. Children of Inmates, which is in large part state-funded, relies on additional dollars from individual donors and fundraising efforts, like The Miami Foundation’s annual Give Miami Day, to help close the gap. All donations made during the 24-hour online giving event help them cover expenses that they wouldn’t be able to take care of otherwise.

For example, funds raised during last year’s Give Miami Day allowed the organization to help a family pay the funeral costs for a child born to a young mom whose parents were both incarcerated. While a sobering story, it’s the reality for families, explained Samuel Ludington, a Miami Fellows alum (Class IX) and former COI deputy director of program development and policy. With Give Miami Day 2018 coming up this week, we spoke with Sam about COI and your donations from the giving event at work.

Can you walk us through a Children of Inmates bonding visit?
Every aspect of the bonding visit is intentional, starting with a family meet-and-greet over breakfast beforehand. When the kids arrive to the facility, there’s a toy store set up that they get to visit with their parent. Almost half of these kids haven’t seen their incarcerated loved one in three or more years, and a visit to the toy store helps break the ice. It’s really about re-creating parental experiences and memories you and I may take for granted. Often these children don’t have positive memories of their parents, if any at all. During these visits, they can create those memories. This not only empowers the children, but the inmates.

One inmate told me recently, “The visits are the few times a year I feel like a real human.” Often, inmates feel like just a number. But when they have an opportunity to see themselves as a parent and develop meaningful relationships with their kids, like any other parent, it is game-changing. The inmates are being released soon, and events like these prepare them to re-enter society. While society might look at them through the lens of their crime, in the eyes of their kids, they’re still mom and dad.

How else does Children of Inmates step in to help facilitate rebuilding these lasting bonds between parent and child?
Children of Inmates recognizes that that in many of these cases, the inmate may deserve to be here, but that doesn’t mean that the kid is any less deserving, or that family is any less deserving of having a bond with their parent. Besides the bonding visit, the organization coordinates trauma-informed, wrap-around services and helps raise awareness about the impacts of parental incarceration.

Children of Inmates has had some success during Give Miami Day, which is coming up this week. For someone who may be interested in supporting the nonprofit, can you help us better-understand the impact an individual donation can make?
For the first six years, Children of Inmates was exclusively serving kids in Miami-Dade because our only funding was from The Children’s Trust. Five years ago, the organization got state funding to expand and is now in Tampa, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Orlando, among other places. Give Miami Day is instrumental in providing a platform to supplement those funds at a grassroots level. While Children of Inmates is almost exclusively funded through government grants, it is a double-edged sword. There are a lot of restrictions and paperwork. The funds received on Give Miami Day allow for critical expenditures that wouldn’t ordinarily be covered.

Can you share an example of these dollars at work?
There was a teen who grew up in the program and became a young mother, having two children by age 18. Recently, her second child, who was born with breathing issues, tragically passed away. Now, this is a mom whose parents are both incarcerated. She has very little support, but she and the baby’s father wanted to have a funeral for the child. Children of Inmates wanted to help, but none of the funds on hand allowed for it. Staff pooled their dollars together to raise money and still fell short. Thankfully, discretionary funds from what Children of Inmates raised during Give Miami Day allowed us to help this young woman, who we love and care for, to grieve without the stress of financial burden. Every dollar raised during Give Miami Day helps cover expenses like these that Children of Inmates, and other small nonprofits like it, wouldn’t be able to take care of otherwise.

Why would you encourage people to support the cause this year?
If you look at the cost of recidivism, it makes sense as a financial investment. Former inmates are less likely to return to prison if they have a strong family support system in place. If we can help restore family relationships, an inmate will be far less likely to recidivate because they’ve got a network of people who love them. And, most importantly, they’ll have a role to play as a mother or father. When you know your children love you and have expectations of you as a parent, it will motivate you to stay out of trouble.

Andrew Boryga is a freelance journalist and fiction writer passionate about introducing kids and inmates to creative writing through his work with Page Slayers and Exchange for Change.

Give Miami Day is led by The Miami Foundation and its partners, Stearns Weaver Miller, Berkowitz Pollack Brant, SEI, Mitchell Wolfson, Sr. Foundation, The William R. Watts Foundation, Knight Foundation, Bank of America and IMPAC Fund.

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