JREC connecting inmates to their children

Don Habeger ready to pack boxes.

The Juneau Reentry Coalition’s Family Support Workgroup is involved in strengthening bonds between prisoners and their family members, especially their children.  A healthy family bond is a key support system for successful reentry after release from prison.  Partnering with the Pay-It-Forward group to send back-to-school supplies to children of an incarcerated parent is one project the Family Support Workgroup became involved in so that the family connection might remain strong.  Read a Juneau Empire story about the project below:

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Crystal Bourland, JREC Family Support Workgroup Chair, packing boxes prior to mailing.

Juneau family pays it forward

Fifty schoolkids from around Alaska and beyond were a lot more prepared to start the school year, thanks to a pair of Juneau sisters, the Juneau Reentry Coalition and the inmate council at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Siblings Regan Tweedy and Suzanne Dutson helped spearhead the effort to buy backpacks for the children of incarcerated parents/caregivers and stuff them full of school supplies.

The two women, who founded the Juneau Pay It Forward Facebook page with their family, were no stranger to what it takes to pull off such an ambitious project, having conducted similar drives over the years.

“We grew up in a home that didn’t have a lot of money,” Dutson explained, “A lot of people helped us out. This is a way to pay it forward.”

After all, she said, she would never have made it “if it had not been for people who were kind and generous in my youth. … I feel like it’s my moral obligation.”

Tweedy, Dutson, and their other sisters, Erin Heywood and Jan-Marie Bearfield, started the Pay It Forward site about five years ago, Tweedy estimated. Some of the projects they initiated included backpack drives and Easter baskets for kids in residential treatment programs.

“Wherever we think there’s a need,” Tweedy said.

A member of the reentry coalition mentioned to her that they were thinking of gathering school supplies for the children of incarcerated parents.

“In short order, I found myself getting volunteered to put this together,” she laughed.

Tweedy pitched the idea to the inmate council at Lemon Creek and they donated $750 for supplies; the coalition pitched in $500 to pay the shipping costs.

The inmates at LCCC are from all over state, Tweedy explained, adding that one of the backpacks even went to a child in Guatemala.

“It really took off, there was a lot of interest,” she said.

Tweedy, in turn, volunteered other people to help her, notably Dutson, and they headed to Fred Meyer to buy the packs and supplies.

“We had $750 and spent $749.95,” Dutson said. “It was so much fun. We spent about three hours picking out things, making sure we got maximum bangs for our bucks — we made sure we took advantage of every coupon.”

They got 10 backpacks for teens, with items like markers, mechanical pencils, graph paper, binders — “things we saw on school supply lists,” she explained. They then bought 25 elementary school backpacks that came equipped with water bottles, lunch boxes, drawstring bags and pencil cases.

“We got those for a ridiculous price, with our discounts,” Dutson exulted, adding that those packs were supplemented with items such as crayons and markers, spiral notebooks, extra paper, scissors, markers, rulers, and pencil sharpeners.

When they looked at their list of students, Tweedy said, the group realized they had a lot more children then they had backpacks for.

“So we went back and I pitched in money to purchase another 15 packs and supplies so that we ended up being able to take care of 50 kids,” she said.

But their work had just begun — they still needed to organize the goods and stuff the packs. So Tweedy called in reinforcements from the family.

“We built an assembly line and we put every single one of (the packs) together that night,” she said. “By the next morning they were all ready to go. … I think everyone had their packs before school started.”

Each inmate got to pick which pack went to their child and put in a personal note they had written, Tweedy said, adding, “It really made them feel proud — it was a very positive thing.”

Posted August 23, 2017 06:05 am – Updated August 23, 2017 06:15 am
By LIZ KELLAR, Juneau Empire

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