Parents in prison learn Prison Fellowship Angel Tree encompasses so much more than Christmas gifts.
In late July 2021, Prison Fellowship launched our first Angel Tree® Parent Day, an in-prison event inviting incarcerated parents to learn more about and participate in Prison Fellowship Angel Tree™. The effort was the brainchild of Vanessa Franklin, national director of field operations.
We sat down with Vanessa to hear about this new venture.
Prison Fellowship: What is the vision behind Angel Tree Parent Days?
VANESSA FRANKLIN: The vision is to make sure incarcerated moms and dads know exactly what they're enrolling their children in when they sign up for the Angel Tree program—what [the program] brings to the table and that they, as parents, are a part of that entire year's process.
What are the elements of an Angel Tree Parent Day?
An Angel Tree Parent Day lasts about an hour and a half. It features inspiring entertainment, videos, and testimonies to encourage incarcerated parents in their ongoing, valuable role in their children's lives.
There are testimonies about the need for others to help with parenting—including the church community. Parents learn how Prison Fellowship Angel Tree connects families with local churches for ongoing support. And they receive information about Angel Tree Christmas, Angel Tree camping, and Angel Tree sports camps.
There is always a local church that participates, and we have a formerly incarcerated person or a caregiver share about what Angel Tree has meant in their family's life.
Why is the church community's involvement so important?
Most of us, in everyday life, don't really structure ourselves to incorporate the church. We just operate as a family that takes care of itself. Well, when the family gets torn apart or trauma happens, that's normally the first time that a community needs to step in and fill in those gaps.
We are learning that God designed community [for connection] the whole entire time—we just haven't incorporated and learned how healthy and wonderful it is. So, I want to see Angel Tree Parent Days become that process [for parents] of really learning the beauty of community. Even though your family is going through a struggle, and this is a difficult time, you can allow the community to come in around this household—and you are part of that community. There's no one replacing you; it's the community walking with you.
How is this event different from a Prison Fellowship Hope Event™?
The main differences are audience and message. Hope Events are evangelistic events focused on and structured around spreading the Gospel of Jesus. But Angel Tree Parent Days are about children, programming, a church community, and how we partner in that process.
We are empowering and educating moms and dads, helping them know what tools and resources are available to them. We're making sure that mom and dad understand the Angel Tree program and that they understand the Angel Tree Christmas application and everything that needs to be filled out.
I especially want parents to know how important the message box is on the Angel Tree Christmas application [where parents can include a personal message]. Children know the voice of their mother. Children know the voice of their father. I want parents to take a moment and make sure their voice is clearly heard in that message box because no one can replace that voice.
What do you hope an incarcerated parent walks away with after attending an Angel Tree Parent Day?
I want them to completely understand what Angel Tree is—it is not a toy drive. We're connecting the children [year-round] with Angel Tree sports camps, Angel Tree camping.
I want incarcerated parents to see that the other partner to this, of course, is the church. And it's the local church that is the closest to their children. We want to invite the church to give mom and dad a debrief of "this is what we're doing with your children for the next year."
The event is encouraging, it's uplifting, and it lets mom and dad know that yes, it's a tough season, but we're in it together—so they can see what they're allowing their children to have that's healthy and good and wholesome.
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