"I'm so excited! I've never done this before!" gasped 4-year-old Trinity, swathed head-to-toe in a purple snowsuit.
Dozens of children like Trinity, all from Harlem and the Bronx, piled off a bus in Central Park for an afternoon of ice skating with Angel Tree®.
Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship®, serves incarcerated parents by creating a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their families at Christmas. Additional, year-round opportunities, like Angel Tree sports clinics, give children of prisoners the chance to gain athletic skills and learn about God's love for them.
At the event in New York, children and their caregivers had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of skating, share cookies and cocoa, and hear about the true meaning of Christmas.
STRENGTH FOR TODAY
"I haven't been on an ice skating rink in literally 30 years," says Trinity's mom, Elizabeth. "Seeing [my kids] be braver than me, even when I was 9 … I'm so proud of them."
Novice skaters like Trinity and her brother, Tyler, would be learning from the best: two-time Olympic figure skater and long-time Prison Fellowship supporter JoJo Starbuck. She joined around 60 other volunteers to make Angel Tree's first ice skating clinic a memorable one. As she shared her expertise with kids on the ice, she hoped to infuse them with confidence in their skills—and in themselves.
"I love the Angel Tree program because of what they're giving to these kids, who would not ordinarily have the opportunity, to enjoy," says JoJo.
Children with an incarcerated parent are some of America's most at-risk kids. They are twice as likely than their peers to suffer major depression, attention disorders, and other mental health problems; four times more likely to grow up in poverty; and three times more likely to one day be involved in the criminal justice system themselves.
But for a few hours on the ice, Angel Tree gave these families a sense of hope. This was not only a day of outdoor recreation; it was a chance to build confidence, be encouraged, and feel loved.
"Just looking at their faces is my favorite part of the day," says JoJo, "seeing them kind of freak out when they get out there, and then to find their balance. And they're so energetic … it's amazing."
HOPE FOR TOMORROW
As the sun began to dip behind the city skyline, children and caregivers gathered to hear Pastor Dimas Salaberrios, a former drug kingpin, share how Christ transformed his life of crime into one of healing and restoration.
This message is one that can make all the difference in the life of a child, especially one who is growing up with a mom or dad behind bars. That's why Angel Tree sports clinics exist: to lift kids up, help them know their worth, show them what they're capable of, and encourage them to find their footing—not only on the ice, but in life.
JoJo adds, "Angel Tree is such a worthwhile organization to get behind, because you're making a difference for the next generation."
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