Finding Hope at a Summer Camp Behind Bars
- By The Global Fund for Children on August 5th, 2014
- Category: Featured, Home, North America, Success Stories
Grantee Partner: Hope House
Location: Washington, DC
In some ways, Hope House’s summer camp looks like any other. Kids do arts and crafts activities, eat s’mores, and tell ghost stories in their cabins at night.
But there is one big difference: for five hours each day, Hope House campers go to prison.
Hope House’s summer camp brings children who live in the Washington, DC, area to prisons to spend a week with their incarcerated fathers. For almost all of the families, it is the only time each year they get to see each other in person. For some families, it is the first time a father will meet his child.
That was true for Alisha, who first attended the camp when she was 10 years old. She had never even seen a photograph of her father—but when she walked into the prison visiting area, she ran across the room and jumped into his arms.
“Any man in that room could have been my daddy,” says Alisha, who attended camp for five years. “But I saw me in his face and I knew him.”
Through a variety of programs, Hope House works to strengthen the father-to-child bond and to reduce the stigma, shame, and risk families face when fathers are imprisoned. The organization’s programs include a father-to-child reading program, a teleconferencing program, summer camps in the prisons, a career pathways program, and peer support groups for the mothers and children.
The programs are centered on the concept that an incarcerated father is still a father—and no matter what society thinks of him, his child didn’t do anything wrong.
In addition to strengthening family relationships, the summer camp functions as an incentive for the dads to behave well in prison. Fathers who want to participate in the summer camp have to complete a parenting course and maintain a clear code of conduct for a year prior to camp.
“[My dad] works an entire year doing good in prison so he can actually see me for 25 hours at camp,” says Damon, who was a toddler when his father was imprisoned. The next time they saw each other was at camp, when Damon was 11 years old.
Since GFC’s support began in 2009, Hope House has emerged as a leader in its field and, through its recently created Father to Child Network, is working with several groups nationwide to provide advice and support for program replication. Executive director Carol Fennelly received the $25,000 Purpose Prize from Encore.org in 2013 due to GFC’s recommendation, and she was also honored as a 2013 White House Champion of Change for her dedication to the well-being of children of incarcerated parents.
Hope House received a Global Catalyst Award from GFC in 2014. Kobe, a 15-year-old beneficiary of Hope House’s program, attended GFC’s spring gala to present the award to Carol.
Kobe says that before camp, he didn’t feel connected to his dad. Now he looks forward to camp every year—including the moment they see each other for the first time.
“I describe it as at first nervous when you get in there, and when you see them and give them a hug, you feel great,” says Kobe. “You feel relieved. Most of all you feel happy.”