Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By: Elizabeth Jones Valderrama
Incarceration is traumatic. It is traumatic for the individual in jail or prison, of course. It is also traumatic for the families of that individual, particularly children, who are silent sufferers. There are five million children in the United States with a parent incarcerated — that’s about one in every 14 children under the age of 18.
Can you imagine the loss that a child experiences when their mother or father is suddenly gone from their lives for a period of time?
Studies show that children of incarcerated parents are affected in a variety of capacities, including a decline in academic performance, an increase in behavioral issues, an increase in the likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system themselves and much more. The family often struggles with how much information to give to the child. Questions such as, “Do we tell the kids where Daddy went?” and “Do we tell them why Mommy is gone?” are difficult to answer.
Children who are aware of what is happening to their parent often experience shame and worry, and the stigma that accompanies a criminal history affects the children as well. Though impacted immensely, children of incarcerated parents bear this heavy burden as a result of something they had no control over. Additionally, families are often left with less income while their loved one is away, leaving many families in financial hardship.
Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) is here, on behalf of the community to help.
OAR works with individuals who are currently incarcerated and those returning home to Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church after their incarceration, as well as their families.
In Arlington, OAR partners with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department and offers six-week parenting courses, taught by trained volunteers, in the Arlington County Detention Facility. These classes discuss how to be an effective parent, with a focus on how to have difficult conversations with their children about their incarceration and how to maintain positive relationships with the child’s guardian.
Individuals who participate in the parenting class also benefit from contact visits with their children during Mother’s Day and/or Father’s Day — in fact, taking the Parenting course is required for participation in these contact visits. You can imagine how impactful it can be to hug their parent and speak face-to-face rather than through the glass of a jail visitation room, especially during these special occasions.
You can also imagine that the holidays can be an especially difficult time for families of those incarcerated.
Having a loved one away for holidays is emotionally tough and families may not be able to provide holiday gifts for their children due to financial hardship. OAR understands the need to ensure children that their parent is thinking of them during the holiday season. With the support of the community, OAR’s “Project Christmas Angel” provides holiday gifts to children of incarcerated parents in the Arlington County Detention Facility, as well as those who have been recently released and those active in OAR’s programs.
OAR volunteers wrap and distribute donated gifts. Each child receives three gifts mailed or hand delivered to their home and the gifts have handwritten gift tags from their parent. One parent from the Arlington County Detention Facility wrote to OAR about this program: “Thank you so much for providing gifts for my children this year. It breaks my heart that I am not with them and they are suffering from my mistakes. But it warms my heart to know that on Christmas morning they will have gifts from me and know that I am thinking of them every single day.”
There are several ways the community can help Project Christmas Angel and OAR is currently collecting donations. Gifts for children ages newborn to 18 are needed, while gifts for teens are especially needed. OAR is also collecting gift card donations. Denominations of $20 to $25 to places such as Target and Amazon are most helpful. We have an Amazon wish list where donations can easily be purchased online and shipped to OAR’s office. Additionally, financial donations are needed to fund the project. For more information about Project Christmas Angel visit OAR’s Events page.
OAR is so thankful to be serving a community that understands the needs and struggles of individuals currently and formerly incarcerated, as well as their families. As author Bryan Stevenson once said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Elizabeth Jones Valderrama is the Executive Director of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), serving Arlington County and the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and has been on the OAR team for over 11 years. Born in Costa Rica, she relocated to Arlington in 1989. Elizabeth holds a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of Virginia and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management. She is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Center for Excellence’s Signature Program and was honored as one of Arlington County’s 40 under 40 Emerging Leaders inaugural class.
Tour Country Club Hills to discover its lush herbage, mature trees, and the Victorian and frame houses of the area in Neighborhood Spotlight.
A soggy weekend is on tap after an otherwise pretty nice final week of September. Obviously this week’s big story was the devastation in Florida, the huge scale of which…
Share your input on the Arlington Forestry and Natural Resources Plan by October 3.
A proposed bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians between Crystal City and the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. has received $20 million in federal funding to move forward. When complete, the…
9th Street Chamber Music is back in business for its second season! 9SCM is disrupting the stereotypes of classical music as stuffy, dry, and elite through dynamic yet accessible performances and its one-of-a-kind String Quartet Intensive for young musicians in the DC Metro area.[9th Street Quartet](https://www.9thstreetchambermusic.com/9th-street- quartet)’s first concert is on Sunday, October 16 at 4:00 PM. The group will offer, for the first time, a ‘Playlist Shuffle’ themed concert featuring single movements of string quartet favorites. Tickets for this concert can be found here, and are $20 for adults and FREE for all students under 18.
Rehearsals began Monday, September 27 for the String Quartet Intensive, welcoming 32 new and returning members to the program. These talented musicians in grades 7 through 12 represent over fifteen area schools throughout Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland, and are an integral part of the growing 9SCM community. Their first performance will take place on Monday, November 28 at 7:30 PM.
Now you can have fun with your family and friends when deciding where to eat!
Just hop aboard The Lunch Train and set the destination for: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or nightlife!
– No app necessary. Simply go to the website if you’d like!
– No account necessary
– Use your current location or a desired location
– Add restaurants you’re interested in, invite your friends, and play the game!
Join us as we explore Vini Franchetti & their two sister vineyards Passopisciaro (Sicily) and Vini Franchetti (Tuscany) for our Sicily/Tuscany Wine Dinner!
Sunday, Oct 9 @ 6pm
Special Guest: This wine dinner we will be hosting the wine maker