American Youth Raise Money for Angel Tree Christmas Program
When Anna was just 10 years old, her mother went to prison for five years. "Those were some of the hardest years in my short life," she says. "I thought what I was going through was just a rare occurrence. That is until I found out that there are 2.2 million children of incarcerated parents in America."
For Anna, one factor that made her situation tough was the feeling of isolation. "I knew no one who was in the same position as I was," she explains. "I was too scared to reach out and talk about how it felt to have a mother in prison."
Now almost 16, Anna is the founder of the Helping Hands Club, a student-led organization with a mission "to help the most vulnerable members in our communities through various virtual community projects while providing a platform for youth leadership." The club began on Instagram with just a handful of students from Sherwood High School in Olney, Maryland. It has since taken off, with 150 members in more than 10 chapters in Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Their first project? Send uplifting cards to nursing homes and their residents. "The elderly are often forgot about, and they were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," Anna explains. "We thought they deserved some attention and love."
Helping Hands Club created over 1,000 handmade cards over a four-month period.
HELPING HANDS FUNDRAISES FOR ANGEL TREE
"Trying to maintain a connection with a parent who you can only see about two times a year was challenging," Anna recalls. "I was always upset when I had to leave [the prison], not knowing when I would see my mom again."
That personal experience is what has motivated Anna and Helping Hands to host a fundraiser for Angel Tree®. A program of Prison Fellowship®, Angel Tree serves incarcerated parents by giving them a pathway to restore and strengthen relationships with their children and families. Through Angel Tree Christmas, churches and organizations around the country deliver the Gospel message and gifts valued at $20 to hundreds of thousands of children (age 18 and under) on behalf of their incarcerated parents. This simple act lets the child know that their parent in prison loves them and has not forgotten them.
Individual members of Helping Hands have joined to create a new fundraising team. They're asking for donations of $20 or more to cover the cost of one Christmas present per child of an incarcerated parent. Their goal is to raise $10,000 in two weeks. In just the first three days of the fundraiser, Helping Hands raised over $3,000.
"I knew that I couldn't just let these kids grow up without support," Anna explains, "and I didn't want them to feel isolated and ashamed like I had. That's why I created Helping Hands—that's why I started the fundraiser. To give back. To [help] kids who are still in the situation I was in feel love and support, have a connection with their parent, and to let them know that they aren't alone."
One amazing experience about this whole entire project is that when I opened up about my experiences, multiple people from my area and club opened up to me about their lives with an incarcerated parent. It makes me super happy that we've been able to create a loving safe space for people to feel comfortable sharing their stories without fear of bullying or shame.
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