“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
Ten years ago, when I sat around a table with Shellie Solomon, Yvonne Sawyer, and Kate Witte brainstorming about how we could help children who had an incarcerated parent, we had no idea how our concept would become Children of Inmates, Inc. (COI). COI has served more than 2,500 children in the State of Florida, since our first strategy meeting.
Every quarter, COI takes children and their caregivers to visit their incarcerated parents. The COI Bonding Trip is COI’s signature activity. Each quarterly visit has a theme and the Spring theme has always been Earth Day. Back in December 2014, I decided to propose our most ambitious theme-related project: KidPower2015.
I enlisted my husband to help me assemble three bicycle generators with the initial idea of teaching the kids and their parents about renewable energy. Shellie Solomon took the lead in getting the project approved by the Florida Department of Corrections. We knew this would take lots of time and lots of concurrences because every component of a bicycle generator is a contraband item for prisons! My good friend and 4th grade teacher, Sandra Nunez, partnered with us to prepare the learning activities and offered her class as bicycle generator technical assistants.
Last Monday morning, I took one of our three bicycle generators travelled to Hollywood Central Elementary so that all eighty 4th graders could learn about converting their physical energy to electrical energy.
The bicycle generator was a hit. The dads loved working alongside their kids to create electrical energy. One dad said, “I can’t wait until my time is up and I can spend time with my son doing projects like this.”
Toward the end of our visit, something very special happened. Unbeknownst to us, the dads had asked the prison staff’s permission to make an announcement. While we were assembled for the group photo, the dads stepped forward and thanked us for our sacrifices to help their kids and make COI possible. They apologized to us and their kids for the poor choices they had made. They said that COI was doing the work that they should be at home doing: raising their children.
We all stood there, speechless, overwhelmed by what they had said.
Before this week is over, the three bicycle generators will travel to eleven correctional facilities across the State of Florida. I’m looking forward to how more dads will be inspired to be dads.
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3 NIV)
Executive Director, Peacemakers Family Center
To read more of Linda’s blog go to iamthriving.org
(Photo credits: Linda Freeman, March 2015)