Angel Tree

Angel Tree Camp Convinces Youth to Leave Gang

By Zoe Erler | Posted September 2, 2015
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Volunteer prays with a camper at an Angel Tree camp

As summer comes to a close, stories begin flowing in about the impact of various Angel Tree camps on specific campers. Every year, great stories come out of Camp IdRaHaJe (“I’d Rather Have Jesus”) in the Denver area. This year, longtime Angel Tree volunteer Joe Waldinger received the following letter from a camper named Dupree who had attended Camp IdRaHaJe for a number of years:

Dear Mr. Waldinger,

I want to thank you for a fantastic week at camp ID RA HA JE. I really thank god for the blessing of being able to worship the lord in a wonderful environment, because without you I probably wouldn’t be the Christian I am today. Every year I am excited to go to this camp and it has always brought peace to my life whenever I attend it. Over the next year I am hoping to enroll in the SALT program and have a job at camp next summer. Over the week at camp I really opened my eyes and noticed what I need to do to have a better life with God. From now on I am trying to stay consistent with scripture and prayer, and hoping to stay in contact with the other campers I met. But overall I thank God for the opportunity to attend the camp and have someone like you to help me follow Christ.

Stories like these remind us that we are making a long-term impact in the lives of young people—an impact that is equipping them for adult lives filled with a relationship with God and service to others. And once in a while, we hear a story about a young life that is not just being enriched and encouraged, but one that is being drastically redirected—as in the case of one young man who showed up last week at the Angel Tree football camp at Stanford University. (more…)

Having an Impact

By Steve Rempe | Posted August 18, 2015

When Ann Lownin first considered volunteering with Prison Fellowship, she admits to being a little nervous.

“At first I thought it was going to be intimidating, but it is not intimidating at all,” Lowin says.  “It is so rewarding, and I have met some of the most special people.”

Lownin has been volunteering with Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree for nearly seven years.  It has been, she says, time well spent.

“I started out as an Angel Tree volunteer with my church in The Woodlands, Texas,” she recalls.  “I’ve got to meet families, and I’ve really seen the way that incarceration affects every family.”

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A Gift, the Gospel, and a Second Chance

By Prison Fellowship | Posted August 13, 2015
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Heidi and Rachel

“God doesn’t waste our pain.”

Heidi should know.  She spent more than eight years in prison, separated from her three young children.  And they were some of the most painful years of her life.

“He’s always there,” she recalls.  “I held on to the promises, and he made my time behind bars productive.”

Still, being separated from her children nearly tore Heidi’s heart in two.

The kids were 9, 5, and 2 years old when their mom went to prison.  Rachel, the oldest, couldn’t help but wonder if her mom even wanted to be her mother anymore.  Deric and Dylan, her brothers, were still too young to understand, but that didn’t spare them from the shame of having a parent in prison.

On one particularly lonely day, the chaplain at the prison where Heidi was incarcerated told her about a program called Angel Tree. It was an opportunity to show her children how much she loved them, the chaplain explained.  It would allow her to be a part of their lives at Christmas, one of the times when they needed her the most.

“The kids always remembered the message I wrote on their Angel Tree tags,” Heidi says.  “Angel Tree allowed me to provide something for my kids—they knew the gifts were from me.”

But that was just the beginning.

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Zachary’s Gift

By Jim Liske | Posted August 10, 2015

Liske_154The greatest gift in Zachary’s life is his daughter. Like many new dads, his whole world changed when she was born. “She was the light in my world of endless darkness. She made me see,” he wrote in a recent letter to Prison Fellowship. He was home for her first Christmas, but after that, he needed to come to terms with wrong choices he had made in the past. He went through detox, turned himself in, and went to prison to serve a 10-year term. His daughter will be 9 years old before he is eligible for parole.

It haunts Zachary that his daughter is paying for his crimes, too. “She goes without daddy every day and is affected daily by my mistakes,” he says. But he does his best to strengthen their bond until he is released. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program is an important part of maintaining their relationship.

“I have used your program for four years now,” Zachary writes, “and you have never disappointed my daughter yet. It’s not really the gifts, it’s the fact that she feels like her daddy has taken the time to get her something, and that’s what makes it so magical to her.”

“What I am trying to say is thank you so much for everything that you have done and the gifts you haven given to my Gift, that mean so much to her you couldn’t possibly understand. Even if it was just a book it would mean more to her than all the presents she gets from anyone else because she knows daddy loves her.”

For more than 30 years friends like you have helped keep parents and their children connected through a Christmas gift and the Good News of Jesus Christ. To learn how you can help, visit www.angeltree.org today.

More Than Legos

By Prison Fellowship | Posted July 22, 2015

When he was 10 months old, Hayden was living with his mom, a meth addict, in a drug house. Child Protective Services found him and took him away. Hayden’s father was in prison at the time. In fact he’d been in and out of prison for nine years. So Donna, Hayden’s grandmother, gained permanent custody of him when he was 2 years old.

“Hayden has abandonment issues,” Donna says. “He sees a psychiatrist once a week and a family support specialist takes him to the park.”

Hayden had a blast at the Angel Tree Christmas party!

Hayden had a blast at the Angel Tree Christmas party!

Donna worked hard so Hayden could grow up in a stable home. But the little boy’s life suffered a severe blow when his dad was taken back to prison four years ago.

“When his daddy was taken away in a squad car, Hayden stood by the front door and cried for half an hour,” Donna says. She couldn’t get him away from the front door. “He was devastated. It broke my heart.”

Hope Appears

What can soothe the heart of a 5-year-old boy who watched his father get taken away to prison?

Prison Fellowship‘s Angel Tree program provided a start. It has been a lifeline for Hayden and Donna.

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Remembering Prisoners—and Their Children

By Jim Liske | Posted July 20, 2015

Liske_154In a major criminal justice reform speech this week, President Obama brought attention to the steep rise in America’s prison population over the last few decades—and its collateral consequences for prisoners’ children.

“Around one million fathers are behind bars,” the president said. “Around one in nine African-American kids has a parent in prison. What is that doing to our communities? What’s that doing to our children? Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could … be more actively involved in their children’s lives …”

As he pointed out, incarceration is a weighty problem with serious consequences, and we will need to address it in the public square and in every branch of government for a long time to come. But there’s also some really good news right now. This summer, hundreds of thousands of incarcerated parents are signing their children up to receive a Christmas gift and the Gospel through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Christmas program.

These children won’t just receive a wrapped present—with help from thousands of volunteers, they’ll get a moment of much-needed connection with an absent parent and the message of the Heavenly Father’s love for them. For many, it’s life-changing.

Will you help? As parents sign their children up for Angel Tree, we’re recruiting thousands of churches and organization from every state to embody God’s love for prisoners and their families. To learn more and sign up, visit angeltree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL

Seeing the Face of God in Prisoners

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 16, 2015

It’s altogether too easy for those of us with little or no connection to prison to dismiss and ignore the men and women behind bars.  Content to live our own lives, we are quick to conclude that the incarcerated “got what they had coming to them,” and to write them off as inconsequential.

For author Caryn Rivadeneira, those perceptions began to change when she visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.  Before her visit, Rivadeneira had opposed the death penalty, but was content to take a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to incarceration.  Having the chance to interact with the men in Angola changed that.

“Seeing prison life firsthand and befriending inmates forced me to realize how a heart that grieves at capital punishment ought also to grieve for lives spent forgotten behind bars, too,” Rivadeneira says in an article for the “her.meneutics” blog on the Christianity Today website.  “My time with the men locked up in Louisiana deepened my understanding of many things. Grace, redemption, certainly. But the word that bubbles up most is—of all things—humanity. Specifically, the way each of our humanity reflects God, the face of our Savior.”

By talking with several prisoners, Rivadeneira was reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew, telling them that when they visited those in prison, they were visiting Him.

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‘Father-Daughter Dance’

By Steve Rempe | Posted June 24, 2015

In 2013, Angela Patton, director of a program named Camp Diva, appeared in a popular TED talk, discussing a father-daughter dance her organization had helped to set up for 16 prisoners and 18 girls in the city jail in Richmond, Virginia.  The story and the images from inside the jail were simple and sweet, yet moving and profound.  Girls were reunited with fathers some had barely known before, and dads were able to reassess their lives and look to the future.  “I just gotta break this cycle I’m in,” one of the fathers says in a Washington Post article in a moment of personal reflection following the dance.  “I’m just tired of it.”

The story was picked up by a number of news outlets, including the aforementioned Washington Post article, as well as a BreakPoint commentary by Eric Metaxas, and two separate posts to this blog (here and here).

Christian recording artist J. J. Heller recently became aware of the story, and was moved to write a song about the dance with her husband, Dave.

Reconciling and restoring families like the ones at the Richmond City Jail is a major part of Prison Fellowship’s ministry.  Programs like Angel Tree seek to reconnect men and women behind bars to their children, providing gifts for their kids at Christmas, camping opportunities in the summer, and mentoring services year round.  And in-prison reentry programs help to equip those preparing to leave prison to be good parents to their sons and daughters.

To find out how you can be a part of reuniting families, please visit our “Get Involved” page.

Elaina Goes to Summer Camp

By Prison Fellowship | Posted June 2, 2015
Angel Tree campers

Every summer, Angel Tree children spend a week at summer camp, learning about God’s love for them and making friends with others who understand what they’re going through.

Elaina has never forgotten the day that her dad was taken away from her. Her mom told her that he was away on business.

When she learned that he was actually in prison, Elaina says, “Me and my sisters were really sad.”

She wasn’t mad at her mom for lying to her. But she missed her dad so much that she thought her heart would break. She couldn’t imagine life without him. And yet she would be without him—for three long years.

Without Her Dad

The first Christmas was especially hard. Elaina longed to have her dad at home. It just wasn’t the same without him.

And then something wonderful happened. Elaina and her sisters were invited to an Angel Tree party at a nearby church.

You should have seen them. When they got home and opened the gifts their dad had picked out for them, they were so surprised. Elaina couldn’t believe her eyes as she tore open the package marked, “To: Elaina, From: Daddy.” Inside she found silly bands, a doll, and some beautiful new clothes.

But that was only the beginning.

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From Camper to Mentor

By Prison Fellowship | Posted May 14, 2015

For a long time, Trisha thought she was alone and that no one could understand what she was going through.

As a young girl, Trisha’s father would lock her and her four siblings out of the house for extended periods. He was involved with drugs; strangers filed in and out of their house constantly. She served as default caregiver for the younger children, and her brother searched the neighborhood to steal food so they could eat.

When Trisha was in the third grade she and her siblings were taken away from their dad because he was making drugs in their basement. His first of two jail sentences left them homeless. Then, while staying in a shelter, they learned that their brother had gotten blood cancer from exposure to the chemicals their dad had used to make drugs. From this point, the five children bounced from relative to relative. First they lived with their aunt, then with their grandmother, and then with their grandfather. The children went back and forth until finally the court decided they had to stay in one place—back with their grandmother.

Trisha’s childhood was a dark and lonely time. She watched her abusive father put a gun to her mom’s head. Her brother is thankfully cancer-free today, but he still wrestles with drug abuse and violence, the issues that plagued their father.

“It’s hard to watch,” she says.

Angel Tree Steps In

Trisha remembers the broken deams and the sadness. She remembers the Christmas they didn’t receive any gifts. Returning to school after Christmas break she had a writing assignment from her teacher: Write about what you got for Christmas. Trisha had nothing to write.

But something changed that first Christmas Trisha and her brother and sisters took part in Angel Tree. She was 9 years old, living in her grandma’s apartment, when Angel Tree volunteers arrived, arms stacked high with gifts. Trisha still remembers a baby doll as her favorite.

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