Family Ties Visit to Albion
On April 6, eighteen women from Osborne’s Family Ties program looked forward to their graduation day - as well as the rare opportunity to visit with their children. Family Ties is a program for children whose mothers are incarcerated at Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
By Aldeney Feliz
Osborne offers a 12-session parenting program at Albion while providing outreach, support and service referrals to the children of the mothers in the class and their caregivers. Albion Correctional Facility is located near the Canadian border in northern New York state, almost 400 miles from New York City. Three times every year, Osborne facilitates a special extended visit day as part of the mothers’ graduation from the program. Children visit their mothers during a two day trip, including a 6 hour visit on the second day. This spring, that visit took place on April 6 when a group of 24 children visited their graduating mothers.
Eight families from the New York City area gathered at Osborne’s Brooklyn office in the early morning. Our large group was a mix of participating children and youth from two years old to twenty-one! We also had one caregiver flying with us, six Osborne staff volunteers, three intern-volunteers, four volunteers from St James Church, and one independent volunteer. Our Family Ties program is led by Coordinator Diana Archer.
The families had a big breakfast - fruit, Danishes, bagels, hash brown, cereal, muffins and sausages and a variety of hot and cold drinks. Everything a child could ask for before departing for the airport. As the final touches and arrangements were made the volunteers read books, played games, prepared tablets, and started lanyard with the children. Volunteers talked with the children and youth and their caregivers about what to expect over the coming days and then the caregivers said their good byes. It was a very eventful early morning for all the children flying out.
Upon arriving at the New York John F. Kennedy airport we welcomed four more children who boarded the plane with the Osborne group. We welcomed each and every family and child with a warm group hello which immediately set a positive tone for the rest of the ride.
When we landed in Rochester, we quickly boarded the bus to Brighton Presbyterian Church, where we were warmly greeted by the staff. At the Church we also met the eight children and their families who drove up to be part of the visit to Albion. A few volunteers gathered in the kitchen and helped serve the food to the children and other volunteers. Everyone had a feast followed by second and third helpings. Once everyone settled every child had a photo taken which was quickly developed to form part of the special card each were creating to present to their mom the following day. The tables were packed with craft supplies and they wrote, drew, cut, and pasted to create these heart felt cards for mom. The cards came out beautifully and all the hard work and love for their moms really shined through.
After we finished playing, we headed to our hotel where we were met by three children and their families. All the children were excited and very much ready for some swimming in the hotel pool and relaxing in the jacuzzi! Children and volunteers had assigned times to allow for everyone to have equal time and supervision followed by some munching on left overs and finally some much needed rest — we were exhausted!
The next morning, we were up early for a big breakfast, before making our way through lightly snow dusted farmland to the town of Albion. Anxiety grew upon our arrival to the facility. Here we were met by one more family who drove directly to the facility for his mother’s graduation ceremony. Everyone was briefed on the order in which the groups would enter. The waiting room was in complete silence just waiting to hear your name being called. Our family visit began about 9am and each reunion was special and moving. We witnessed the very special first hug smiles and stares; looking to see what has changed and how much each has grown. Of the eighteen graduating mothers in the class, fourteen received a visit with their children. The visiting room was full of family activity: playing board games, UNO, reading books; two moms braided their daughter’s hair while just enjoying each other’s company. The mothers and their children ate a buffet style lunch together and were joined by the correctional staff and administrators.
The graduation was inspiring and joyful. We all welcomed new Superintendent Squires who expressed her desires to support the continuance of the great work and result gathered from the parenting class. In her speech, she explained that everything is a learning experience a work in progress. These very powerful and special words resonated in the faces of all the graduates. Two mothers spoke, and one sang the Mariah Carey song, "Hero." She sang beautifully and brought smiles to many faces. She was followed by a mom who shared emotional and motivational words to the graduating class - and who then let her son know she would be home in July, just three months away. There was not one dry eye in the room as her son realized he would have his mother with him again soon.
After the graduation ended, the families and volunteers celebrated with cupcakes to commemorate the special event. The children gave their moms the cards they had made, and the moms presented their children with hand-made, beautiful scrapbooks that they worked on throughout the class. They were lots of smiles and hugs. Finally, when the visit was over, the children reluctantly said their goodbyes to their mothers as they walked out with teddy bears and pictures taken in the visiting room to remember and cherish the memories made on that special day. Our driving families said their goodbyes, and thanked us for the time the children had with their mothers.
As we waited at the airport for our plane to arrive, we leaned on and supported each other. Volunteers helped the children with debriefing, while completing paperwork. Lasting connections and friendships were made both with volunteers and with the other children. The children deeply miss their moms - we were happy to take this journey with peers who understood, and with volunteers who provided caring support and playful company. It was a life changing event for each child on this trip; the impact was positive and the memories everlasting.