Program Successes Take on Many Forms: The Centers’ Family Literacy Program

Katherine Downie is an Educational Specialist for The Centers’ Prevention Services Prison Program. This program offers parenting classes for prisoners and services for children of prisoners and their families. The distinct interventions help children heal from multiple traumas associated with a parent in prison, reconnect with their parents, and stabilize their family. For several years, HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) has partnered with The Centers through Prevention Services’ Family Literacy Program.

Katherine recently shared two stories of prisoners and their families with whom she works.

A Wrightsville dad who has participated for several years in The Centers’ Family Literacy Program told Katherine a great story about his daughter. At the encouragement of teachers from our Family Literacy Writing class, he began writing to his young teenage daughter. They had been estranged for years. His letters led to letters from her and then prison visits. After much sorting out of past hurts, they have formed a strong bond. His daughter told him she keeps a scrapbook of every letter or card he sends her. This touched him and reinforced one of the strong tenets of our parenting classes---Write to your children even if you know they won’t get them. Keep a copy or mail a copy to a trusted person on the outside. We want the children to know you were thinking of them and trying to communicate all along. Someday that knowledge can make a big difference.

As part of the chapter on Having Fun with Children in the Inside Out Dads curriculum, we do an art project that the dads can send to their children. Some of the dads mail the drawing home, so their children can mail a picture back. One particular dad had drawn a polka-dotted queen catching a fish under a bridge. He had been writing letters to his two preschool daughters, but had no response. This summer, after mailing the picture he had drawn and much to his surprise, they came to see him...after more than a year of no contact! The mother of the girls told him they loved the picture and hung it on their bedroom wall. This dad came up after class at Randall Williams in Pine Bluff to tell Katherine how happy he was to be back in contact with his girls.

Success at The Centers looks like many different things. It can be a child reconnecting with their incarcerated parent, or an at-risk teenage boy joining our Boy Scout troop to learn leadership skills and build character. Success can mean that a former client goes on to graduate from high school and enter nursing school. Or, it can mean a parent learns new parenting skills that help them improve their family functioning. We strive daily toward success in building healthier children, families and communities. We owe our success to supporters just like you in the community! Without the help of our donors, we would not be able to assist families in reconnecting.

Thank you for your support!

Program Statistics:

  • 30+ children have been served over the last year through Centers’ partnership with HIPPY.
  • Last year, 5 children progressed from HIPPY to attend grade school with more confidence and better prepared for a school setting.

Centers Gives Hope for Bright Future

Centers for Youth and Families has been a real blessing in my life. As a former client, I would like to share with you how they’ve impacted me. I’m not sure when the physical and sexual abuse began, but I know that it stopped when I was nine years old and was placed in foster care in Las Vegas, Nevada. At that point I was adopted by my grandparents and moved back to Arkansas. When I was sixteen, I was sexually abused again and once more found myself in the foster care system. Not long after being placed into foster care, I was taken to Centers for Youth and Families’ Emergency Youth Shelter.

At The Centers, I was treated as an individual, not just a stereotypical teenager or typical case of abuse. They told me that I could be more than just a victim. They told me that I could take charge of my life and be whoever it is I wanted to be. They told me that I could graduate high school and go to college, if that’s what I wished for myself. It was so amazing to be treated like a human being, and not just a hopeless case or another face in the foster care system. They had faith in me and my abilities, even before I did. They gave me something that would change my life forever…they gave me hope. Hope that I didn’t have to be like my peers, some who were homeless and addicted to drugs. Centers’ staff allowed me to feel what it was like to be a regular teenage girl in high school. When it was time for my first high school prom, it was they who pulled together funds and purchased a dress and shoes so that I could attend. They gave me the opportunity to play soccer and purchased all the materials I would need to play, so that I could be like the other kids.

I was amazed at the fact that these “strangers” cared enough to love and protect me and to be more like a family to me than even my own family was. See, I was abused by the men in my family, and I was overwhelmed that Centers staff treated me better than the people who were supposed to love protect me. I’m proud to say that I graduated high school and then college with Associates and Bachelors degrees. I’m currently working on completing my Masters degree. After leaving The Centers, I never forgot how they made me feel and everything they’d taught me. I’ve always held a special place in my heart for the Centers programs, so after graduating college I went back and worked at Centers for Youth and Families in Monticello. I wanted to be that person who gave hope to hopeless youth; who made others feel like an individual. I wanted to be like the person who told me that I could rise above my situation. I wanted to be like the person who had faith in me. That’s who I wanted to be for other clients at Centers for Youth and Families.

When I became pregnant with my son I stopped working at The Centers, although I truly enjoyed my time there. I am excited to stay connected with the organization. I will never forget all they have done for me. My hope is that sharing my story will inspire others to believe in themselves and to not settle for being just another stereotype. I'm grateful for having had Centers for Youth and Families in my life and I'm grateful to those who support the organization for making hope my life a possibility.

~ Krystal Prather Harper