Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Season of Giving

Angel Tree remains one of the finest programs out there for kids who have incarcerated parents. I met the woman (Mary Kay Beard) who started the program this year. She was a bank robber in the late sixties and when she was in prison she discovered that she may have a higher calling. That first year she was able to gather enough presents to help a small number of children in rural Arkansas. Since the inception they have helped more than five million children and that included over 5,000 in the Denver metro area in last year.

The season of giving
Bearing gifts and hope for separated families, Prison Fellowship Angel Tree seeks to share ‘the true meaning of Christmas’

By J.C. O'Connell
The Aurora Sentinel

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AURORA | One red and one green balloon on the ministry door were a subtle hint at the festivities inside, but the excited kids scampering across the snow-covered parking lot were more than willing to announce what they'd come for. "My name is Anthony, and I'm here to open the presents from my dad," 5-year-old Anthony Crable announced before taking off his hat and coat. He and his mother, Kristin Crable, grabbed a seat at one of the holiday party's tables Dec. 8. They joined about 30 other families with children who have a parent in prison during the holiday season. Restoration Outreach Programs, formerly Open Door Ministry, in north Aurora has worked with Prison Fellowship Angel Tree for three years to bring children like Anthony presents from their absent parents.

"It's important to him," said Kristin. "He really misses his dad."

Anthony's dad has been in prison for more than a year because of parole violations stemming from a conviction for theft 10 years ago, said Kristin, who didn't know what any of the donated gifts would be. But her son's excitement was palpable.

"This makes it better," said Kristin.

Donna Layne, and her husband, Dan, have been involved with Angel Tree for four years, while the organization has spread nationwide for over 25 years. "What it does, is basically help with the relationship (the kids) have with their incarcerated parent," Layne said. This year, 195 churches helped serve 8,665 children in Colorado - every child that was signed up for the program - said Kristi Hornick, regional coordinator for Angel Tree. This year six Aurora churches participated in the Angel Tree program, she said. Some presents are delivered to the children's homes and others are opened at a holiday party.

"We've done the gifts before but we've never come to the actual event," said Connie Weigel, who came with her family from Castle Rock to the holiday party. Her two daughters each chose a child to sponsor and shop for with her 5-year-old picking out a doll and pajamas for a 4-year-old child and Weigel's teenage daughter picking out a jacket for a kid close to her own age, Weigel said.

"This is pretty cool to see the families come out and see the smiles on their faces," she added.

This year, the party included an appearance by Santa Claus, prayers, a magic show, lunch including a cake covered in snowmen made from frosting, and most important, church members say, a chance for the kids to enjoy themselves rather than be reminded of the absence of a parent or their sometimes stressful home lives.

"It's basically a chance for them to come and be blessed. We share the Gospel with them, we share the true meaning of Christmas," Layne said. Deb Ford, the director of the ministry's Heart to Hand program, said she was one of the first Angel Tree children When she was about 8 years old, Ford said her father was imprisoned for sexual abuse and her mother repeatedly warned her that Christmas presents wouldn't be on the way. "I remember her saying 'Santa only comes to houses with moms and dads,'" Ford said. The excitement was almost overwhelming for Ford and her two siblings, she said.

"It was just awesome ... I remember that I got a doll that wet and I thought it was the coolest thing," Ford said. "I stayed up all night putting water in the bottle." Ford's story is similar to others since Angel Tree's inception.Family members of a child of an imprisoned parent, or the parent themselves, can register their child for Angel Tree. Those children are matched with a sponsor who shops for the child's wish list, which includes information about their gender, age and clothing sizes. After the completion of at least one Angel Tree holiday party in Aurora, the opportunity to give this holiday season continues in many areas of the city, including Heart to Hand's Adopt a Family program. The Adopt a Family program is more flexible when screening applicants, with no requirement that a parent be in jail. Ford said she sits with families in need and talks to them about what Christmas gifts would help them and what the parents would like to give to their children. Popular items include clothing and educational toys for the kids, along with gift cards for the adults to buy food and gas.

The need for help around the holiday season has grown in recent years, charity representatives said. Ford said last year she went and recruited 25 families for her Adopt program, but this year she expects to being helping between 30 and 50 families, many in the days before Christmas She's glad for the support of individual and corporate sponsors offer and the helping hand the program gets from other churches in the area.

"I couldn't do what we do without all the community resources," Ford said. "I couldn't do it."

The Angel Tree program also has seen a rise in the need for help. "It is very difficult to keep up with the demand just because the incarcerated rate is increasing unfortunately and with that you bring along (on average) two-and-a-half kids per inmate," Hornick said. Because of high demand, the program chose to exclude participation from Colorado's county jails this year, which translates to about 3,000 children, because most of the parents' stays in county jail are relatively short, Hornick said. But once a child is signed up through one of the local Angel Tree organizations, church and community volunteers seem determine to make sure they have something waiting under the tree. "I have never had a church say that's too many, take these children back ... It's amazing how it gets accomplished. People step up," Hornick said. In addition to Heart to Hand's Adopt a Family program, Catholic Charities is also running a similar program with its current clients.

Aurora Sentinel

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