Share Christmas love with children and invest in their future
For children of prisoners life can be very difficult, lonely and depressing. It’s even more challenging during holidays, vacations or any other occasion when families gather to celebrate. Statistics show that these children have a higher probability of behaving anti-socially, getting involved in destructive relationships and eventually breaking the law and ending up serving a prison sentence as an adult, or even during adolescence. Today’s children of prisoners are in danger of becoming tomorrow’s prisoners as long as society keeps them at a distance and refuses to offer any hope for the future. The number of children with a parent serving a prison sentence continues to increase. The Angel Tree program is successful because, during a difficult season of loneliness, when the parent is in prison, understanding and help id offered. Angel Tree also seeks to connect children with their parents not only at Christmas, but all throughout the year.
How to get involved: Children of prisoners are often overlooked, forgotten and rejected based on the guilt of their parent. Children shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ mistakes. Angel Tree program offers the opportunity to practically express love and compassion to children and their families in need, and helps renew the relationships among parents and their children that have been harmed by imprisonment and distance. Not only does a child experience joy from the gift they receive, but also the knowledge that their mother or father has not forgotten them.
How the program operates: Many parents who are serving a prison sentence, have no financial means of supporting their children, and find themselves feeling frustrated and powerless. The impact of forced and painful separation from parents, combined with financial hardship is, for a child, emotionally devastating and heightens the risk that he/she will one day commit a crime. The program helps to bridge the gap in the relationship between the parent and their children allowing the parent to focus on their child by meeting their basic physical and emotional needs and strengthening the bond between them. By focusing on the child, the program is an effective means of crime prevention with long-term positive impact on society, the church and the family.
Benefits of the program: Immediate help arises with the healing of relationship between incarcerated parents and their children. This is the main idea behind Angel Tree. However there are additional benefits that come: The program offers insight to churches and volunteers by opening up the possibility of helping the incarcerated. While many members of churches remain unaware or even uninterested in these needs, people are always interested in helping the children. Foreign experience suggests that as soon as this program becomes a regular church activity, often other activities involving the prison follow. Many Prison Fellowship volunteers point to Angel Tree as the reason for their interest in becoming a prison volunteer. And on the other side, within the prison, the parent who participates in Angel Tree often begins to get involved in Bible studies and other related activities.
How to implement the program: Angel Tree program is a partnership among Prison Fellowship, prison social workers, prison chaplains and local congregations and fellowships. The first step is to allow enough time in advance, say 2-3 months, for all the needed preparations.
Involvement of prisoners: Prisoners, chosen by their social worker, or other prison official, fill out an application. Their child (either their own, or adopted), up to the age of 15, will be included in the program. The child may live with the prisoner’s wife, husband, relative or guardian. The social worker must confirm that there is no court order preventing contact between the parent and their child. The prisoner fills out the request, and writes a personal letter to their child, which will be placed within the gift. The social worker sends the request to Prison Fellowship CZ (PFCZ)
Involvement of churches and groups: The application forms are given to the congregation, or volunteer coordinator. PFCZ or the coordinator calls or writes to the child’s caretaker and asks for gift suggestions. Sometimes the parent in prison can give this information also. The family with whom the child lives may be experiencing economic difficulties, and may request school items (back packs, gym clothing, etc) or different basic items. Congregations/volunteers and their coordinator write the name and specific details of the child and their Christmas wish on the Angel Tree label.
Members of churches or other volunteers choose a label on which the child’s name and information is written, and purchase a suitable gift, within the recommended price range for the specific age of the child.
Note: organizers should advise volunteers to avoid buying gifts that are battery-operated, or potentially encourage aggressive behavior.
Angel Tree throughout the year
Caring for the children of prisoners doesn’t have to happen only at Christmas, but can be carried on throughout the whole year. Time spent together with the child and his/her family along with creative and regular contact can help cultivate relationships and bring healing from the harmful effects of crime.
Angel Tree Camping Program
The program encourages local congregations to provide a grant for a child of a prisoner to attend a local Christian camp.
Angel Tree Return to School
A child receives a school bag filled with various school items, which their parent is unable to purchase for them. It’s important for a child to know that her parent in prison is thinking about her and this strengthens that form of help. It is one way that can help change the fate of a child.
Angel Tree Children’s’ Day
A celebration of children together with their parents directly in prison (as long as the prison administration would allow it).
Club Angel Tree
A meeting place where children participate in various activities, including sports, concerts, films, etc.
Angel Tree Easter Celebration
A time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ together with Angel Tree children and their caretakers.
Angel Tree Mentoring
A counselor meets with an Angel Tree child several times a year for ongoing emotional and mental support.