Angel Tree

Family Blessings at Christmas

By Prison Fellowship | Posted September 18, 2014

God used Angel Tree supporters to change a family’s future.

Preschoolers AJ and Butchie witnessed a harrowing scene in the courtroom; if it had ended there, these two little boys would have faced a future without hope or promise. But Angel Tree supporters helped rescue them and turn their hearts to their parents.

AJ and Butchie watched in horror that day as both of their parents were brought into a courtroom on drug charges. Catching sight of their shackled parents, the children screamed and flailed to get to them.

Their father, Butch, listened to their heartrending cries of “Daddy, Daddy” — and helplessly burst into tears.

Their mom was released, but Butch was given a seven-year prison sentence.

He attended every Christian program he could, including Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative — an intensive course of study and reentry preparation centered on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Butch’s life was transforming, but his wife, Gwenni, struggled with her own drug addiction. And taking care of AJ and Butchie alone on the outside was demanding.

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Lifting Up the Sons of Prisoners

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted September 9, 2014

Every Christmas, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program delivers the Gospel message and gifts to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. But Angel Tree’s reach extends much farther than Christmastime. Prisoners’ children are experiencing God’s love all year long through Angel Tree summer camps, mentoring relationships, and an exciting annual event called the Angel Tree Football Clinic at Stanford.

Angel Tree Football Clinic participants run drills.

Angel Tree Football Clinic participants run drills.

Aug. 24 marked the eighth year that the Angel Tree Football Clinic has brought together high-caliber, Christian former college and professional football players and 7- to 13-year-old boys who have an incarcerated parent or face other significant risk factors. This year, about 320 boys from California enjoyed a free day of encouragement, physical engagement, and character development with 35 volunteer coaches who served as their positive male role models.

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A Day of Hope for Prisoners and Their Children

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted August 29, 2014
As their dads came out of the building, their children ran and jumped on them with excitement.

As their dads emerged from the building, the children ran to jump on them for a big hug. (Photo by Edward Weston)

If you imagine away the barbed-wire fence, it feels just like a family picnic on a sprawling green lawn underneath the late-morning sunshine. But for the parents and children in attendance, this is much more than a picnic; this is the day hope is restored.

On Aug. 16, nearly 30 boys and girls huddled around the entrance of Avery Mitchell Correctional Facility in the beautiful mountains of Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to spend a day with someone they’d been missing lately: their incarcerated fathers. Some of these kids hadn’t seen their dads in several years; a few had never met their dads before. But, just the same, every child couldn’t wait to jump into their father’s arms on the prison’s front yard.

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Angel Wink

By Melissa Haase | Posted August 25, 2014
The Haase family

The Haase family

I grew up in a small town in Nebraska in an average family. Every year at Christmas, we sponsored a child through the Angel Tree® program. I loved the tradition and felt something special when we would drop off the packages in time for a prisoner’s child to celebrate Christmas.

As I grew older, I wasn’t as dedicated or consistent about picking a special tag from an Angel Tree. Sometimes it was hard to find a nearby location running the program. However, once I became a mom, I truly felt the need to spread the love and generosity so that my son, Jackson, would witness how our family could help other families.

Early during the Advent season in 2013, I was excited to pick an Angel Tree tag from the tree at our church. I wanted to be one of the first families to pick a tag since the year before we were late and all the tags had been taken.

This year, Jackson was 3 – old enough to help me pick out the tag and presents, beginning a whole new tradition for the two of us. Also, this year I had a special reason of my own to help out a child.

Our family was in need of finding joy this Christmas. We were missing our baby boy, Nicholas, who was stillborn a few months earlier. Nicholas was survived by his twin sister, but even with the delightful and joyful noises of a new baby at Christmastime, we knew our own little angel couldn’t be with us.

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Darryl Strawberry Finds a Savior

By John Stonestreet | Posted August 11, 2014

The following story originally aired as a BreakPoint commentary on August 7.

In 1980, the New York Mets selected an 18-year-old baseball phenom, Darryl Strawberry, with the first pick in the Major League draft.

"A worn-out baseball" by Schyler at English Wikipedia - Own work by the original uploader. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_worn-out_baseball.JPG#mediaviewer/File:A_worn-out_baseball.JPG

“A worn-out baseball” by Schyler at English Wikipedia

Being a Mets fan in the 1970’s was tough—just ask my BreakPoint colleagues Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that many saw the outfielder from Crenshaw High School in LA as a potential savior for the moribund franchise. And he delivered.

Strawberry played in eight consecutive All-Star games, seven of them while playing for the Mets. And in 1986, he helped the Mets win the World Series, hitting a moonshot in the seventh and deciding game that put the game out of reach.

But while Strawberry delivered on the field, his life off the field amply demonstrated that the so-called “savior” was desperately in need of, well, a real Savior. And, God be praised, he found Him.

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Passing the Gift Along

By Prison Fellowship | Posted August 11, 2014
Michelle and her daughter.

Michelle and her daughter, Victoria

No one has to tell Michelle what prison can do to a family; she’s lived it. Her mom went to prison when Michelle was 15 years old.

But Michelle also knows that broken families and shattered dreams can be restored – like hers were through Angel Tree.

Lonely Christmas, Shattered Dreams

She’d already spent one lonely Christmas without her mother, and another was just around the corner.

Presents were out of the question, and Michelle was worried. She was the oldest. Her brother and sisters were counting on her. With both mom and dad out of the picture, she’d become the parent in the family.

It was a heavy burden for a teenager to bear.

Sometimes she’d lie awake at night and think about what might have been. Michelle had dreamed of going to college. Now, in her own words, she was “a seventh grade dropout.”

But God had not forgotten Michelle or her brothers and sisters, and neither had their mother. She was far away in prison, but her children were never far from her thoughts.

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Leave It Behind

By Jerusha Hardin | Posted August 6, 2014
Angel Tree camps are changing lives.

Angel Tree camps are changing lives.

Eight-year-old Caysha* is my light-haired camper with beautifully expressive eyes. They light up when she smiles, but most of the time, they are clouded by her frown. The counselor coach and I sit next to her and ask her what’s really going on.

Caysha lowers her eyes. “My dad’s in jail.”

I try to choke down my tears, but I feel them brimming to the surface as I instinctively touch her hand. I know that all of our campers have a parent in prison, but Caysha is by far one of the most depressed campers I’ve ever had, and it hurts to know the reason.

The Tough Questions

That night, Caysha and I sit out on the porch and she tells me bits and pieces about her life. As she realizes that it’s a safe place to talk about her feelings, she becomes a little more open. Finally, she asks the big question.

“If God loves me and He’s really in control of everything, then why did my daddy go to prison?”

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No Laughing Matter

By Steve Rempe | Posted July 23, 2014

Humor is a very powerful thing.  It has the ability to entertain.  It can connect people who otherwise might have very little in common and allow old friends to revisit happy times and places.  A well-timed joke can relieve tension, foster conversation, encourage, bring cheer, and alleviate melancholy.

It can also inform, elucidate, and raise awareness of serious issues – sometimes in ways a simple recitation of facts cannot.

On his “Last Week Tonight” program, comedian John Oliver delivers a lengthy monologue focused on the state of the corrections system in the United States.  The commentary deals with a wide range of prison-related issues – from mandatory minimums, to solitary confinement, to the privatization of prisons, to the number of children with at least one parent behind bars.  At one point, Oliver plays a clip from Sesame Street’s “Little Children, Big Challenges” program which is specifically intended for children of inmates.

“Just think about that,” Oliver says incredulously.  “We now need adorable, singing puppets to explain prison to children in the same way they explain the number seven or what the moon is.”

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Seeing the Invisible

By Jim Liske | Posted July 16, 2014

Liske_154Today there are approximately 2.7 million children with a mom or dad behind bars in this country. There’s no easy way to tell who these boys and girls are. They are all over the country, in busy cities and sleepy towns, in gated communities and run-down projects. Many of them are carrying emotional burdens far too heavy for their years.

The Church is God’s Plan A for loving the hurting, and local churches, with roots deep in their communities, are the group best positioned to embrace these children and their families, wherever they are. Angel Tree churches sign up to do just that.

Margo Nance volunteers to coordinate the Angel Tree program at Embassy Church in Cook County, Illinois, where many prisoners’ children live.

“Angel Tree affords us an opportunity to go to people we don’t know and minister to them, where we know the need is great,” Margo says.

As an example, Margo shares how a church representative called a child’s caregiver and heard a heartbreaking story of need. The family, including a newborn baby, had just lost its home in a fire. Touched by the family’s difficult circumstances, the church went above and beyond to provide much-needed items for the entire family. The caregiver was so blessed by the church’s restorative concern for her family she came back later to ask for prayer.

If we want to make the invisible Kingdom visible, we must go out of our way to notice those who feel invisible, to come alongside them and say, “You are not alone. God sees you. He loves you, and so do we.”

Churches large and small, urban and rural, can embrace this joyous calling. Learn how to become an Angel Tree church at www.angeltree.org.

Fatherhood Found in Storybooks

By Kate Campbell | Posted July 9, 2014

Kate Campbell is a summer intern with Prison Fellowship, working with Inside Journal. She is currently studying photojournalism at Boston University.

Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article about a program called Reading Connections, which allows incarcerated fathers and mothers to record videos of themselves reading stories for their children. The parent also writes a letter, which is sent to their child along with a copy of the storybook.

In America, over 2.7 million children are growing up with an incarcerated parent. The Reading Connections program helps children maintain a relationship with and their parent during the difficult time of incarceration. Studies have shown that prisoners have a lesser chance of reoffending if they have healthy relationships with their families.

Prison Fellowship Ministries works to reduce the prison return rate by building and restoring relationships, including those between parents and children.

In Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, prisoners have the opportunity to build relationships with their children through the Storybook Dad program. The program began in 2008, and since then it has become an entirely prisoner-run operation.

According to Phillip Dautrich, an IFI counselor for Prison Fellowship, about 50 percent of the men in the Carol Vance Unit participate in the program. Men come into the studio at their scheduled time, choose a book, and then sit in front of a microphone and read the book. Other volunteer prisoners work with the sound equipment to add sound effects to the voice recording, then burn that track onto a CD, complete with a personalized CD case. Fathers can then send the CD and a copy of the book to their child as a birthday present or as part of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program at Christmastime. Volunteers have sent out over 1,500 CDs and more than 750 books.

“It gives the opportunity for the men to start thinking about reconciliation,” says Dautrich. “I like to think that that book is going to be a building block for them.”

Dautrich says that this program has definitely made an impact on both the fathers and the children.

“What we’re seeing now is that the child is now very excited for their dad to come home,” says Dautrich. “From the dad’s perspective, for them this was maybe the first time they weren’t selfish and they did something just for their child.”

This program often starts conversations about fatherhood and reconciliation.

“I don’t know if they’ve ever thought about what it means to be a father, and a responsible one.” says Dautrich. “It opens doors for us to start talking about it.”

We are all called to share the message of restorative hope found in the Gospel. Prison Fellowship strives to restore family connections through its Angel Tree program. Learn more about how you can be a part of this mission of restoration at www.angeltree.org.




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