March 27, 2014

“A Hand to Offer” – Kids-A-Part Volunteer Highlighted

Posted in Kids-A-Part, United Way, Volunteer Spotlight tagged , , , , , , , , , at 8:41 am by Lund

Jessica Ellerman - Kids-A-Part Volunteer

Jessica Ellerman – Kids-A-Part Volunteer

Jessica Ellermann began volunteering for the Kids-A-Part program in November 2011 because the program connected two of her interests – children and criminal justice.  “As a nanny, I am used to being around kids, but I also appreciate the opportunity to get a different perspective on the criminal justice system. My goal is to be a lawyer and for that I think it is essential to have a diverse perspective on crime, offenders, the system, and society,” says Jessica.  This unique opportunity to support children as they visit their mothers inside the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility allows Jessica a perspective that most do not have.  “My favorite moment is when the mothers enter the room and you can see everyone’s faces light up with joy.  The mother-child bond is precious and should be protected as much as possible. Kids-A-Part encourages mothers to play with their children in an environment that resembles a daycare rather than a correctional facility,” she says.  The Kids-A-Part room is full of books, toys and games that the moms can enjoy with their children.  They can sit together on the couch, hold hands and snuggle up together.  This is not permitted in the regular visiting room at the facility.

Jessica’s prime responsibility is to walk the children from the lobby at CRCF, accompany them through security and escort them to the Kids-A-Part room.  The adults who bring the children to the facility to visit their moms cannot go with them into the visit and so Jessica’s role is essential, “Being greeted at the door by a warm and knowledgeable volunteer, like Jessica, reassures grandparents, fathers and other caregivers who entrust us to bring the children they are responsible for into a jail,” says Jo Berger, Community Case Manager for Kids-A-Part. “Volunteers are also crucial because they carry the little ones and all their bottles and binkies in and out of the facility!”

Jessica remains in the Kids-A-Part room during the visit and is available to play with one sibling while another spends some one on one time with mom or to just be there for support and continuity for the children.   When it is time to leave, Jessica is there again to ease the transition.  “Saying goodbye to Mom is difficult, but the walk out is much better when Mom is able to say, ‘This is my friend Jessica, and she is going to hold your hand until you get to the lobby to Gramm’.  It would be awful to notice a child struggling and not have a  hand to offer him or her,” says Jo.

This experience has been rewarding for Jessica herself, and something she can use in the future, as well as being so important for the children and their caregivers.  “My work with Kids-A-Part has been a valuable experience. The program has certainly changed my views on crime, punishment and its consequences. Knowing how prisons affect our community and the individuals involved will prove to be an important tool throughout my career.”   Jessica plans to return to her native Germany this fall to finish law school.  She will take moving memories  with her that she won’t forget, however far her work and life takes her from Vermont.  “We have a holiday party every year, which I always find very rewarding. During this visit, the children and their mothers get to celebrate the holidays in the warmly decorated Kids-A-Part area. We usually start out with a pancake breakfast and then offer a variety of activities such as cookie decorating, singing in front of the tree, giving gifts etc. The holidays are a time to cherish love and should not be missed by children even if their mothers are incarcerated.”

Thank you, Jessica, for your important work helping to reduce the impact of a mother’s incarceration on her children.   You have truly made a difference.

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