Four-year-old Kassey didn't understand why her daddy was leaving her behind. Could Angel Tree® help a hurting family during this time of separation?
Four-year-old Kassey was confused. She kept hearing about "prison" and "incarceration," but she didn't know what the words meant.
She soon learned that, in her case, it meant that she wouldn't see her father regularly for several years.
Growing up with an absent parent is incredibly painful for a child, especially when that parent is behind bars. Many families struggle to maintain their relationships, as incarceration can sever ties between parent and child. But even though they were separated for many years, Kassey and her father remained close, and she says Angel Tree, a Prison Fellowship® program, played a big part.
THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS
A Christmas staple since 1982, Angel Tree serves incarcerated parents by providing a pathway for strengthening and restoring their relationships with their children and families. Angel Tree makes a way for hundreds of thousands of children to receive a gift, the Gospel message, and a personal message of love on behalf of their incarcerated parent.
Kassey's father first heard about Angel Tree from the prison chaplain. For 10 years and two prison sentences, Dad sent Kassey and her two sisters Christmas gifts through Angel Tree. Each time, the presents were beautifully wrapped and helped Kassey and her sisters feel like every other kid with presents under the tree.
"Angel Tree gifts were really the only gifts we received at Christmas, so it was easy to remember," she says. "I remember when I got the Velveteen Rabbit—opening it up and seeing his tail and pulling it out and being so excited. … I still have the Velveteen Rabbit; it's on my daughter’s bed right now."
But not every present was gift-wrapped.
JOY, NOT JUDGMENT
"One year, Angel Tree volunteers delivered the gifts like usual and left," Kassey recalls. "But then they came back with a Christmas tree! ... Pretty sure that was the best Christmas tree we've ever had!"
Kassey was only 5 or 6 at the time, but she remembers the impact those volunteers made to this day.
"When you're young, you're confused about why bad things happen," says Kassey. "But having the Angel Tree volunteers come in and have so much love, and they were not judgmental and didn't bring any shame; they helped to normalize our experience. More than anything, it helped show God's love and helped open our eyes to see how big God is."
"Angel Tree made a big difference, and I think this really did help heal our family and keep a strong connection with my father," Kassey says. The connection has led to regular communication between Kassey and her father. Today, he remains very much a part of her life.
That kind of connection makes all the difference. "It may seem like a small thing you're doing, buying a gift for a child," Kassey says, "but for the child, it's so big because it's really demonstrating that their parent in prison—who they may not see on a regular basis—is still thinking about them. And that's huge."
Kassey's story is not unique. In fact, 1 in 28 American children have a parent in prison. But through Angel Tree, you can help kids like her receive the gift of Christmas and a renewed relationship with their incarcerated parent. Sign up to volunteer with Angel Tree today.
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