Fifteen years ago, I reinvented myself and started a new career in faith-based social services. I have had the privilege of building innovative social service programs for at-risk children and families.
One of these programs is Children of Inmates, Inc. (COI). Initiated at a brainstorming session with four of my colleagues, COI began implementing services in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 2007 with a collaborative team of eight community, faith, and professional organizations.
This core team has been meeting and coordinating services for 95 months. COI has grown to 12 collaborative organizations now serving children residing in 11 of Florida’s 67 counties with a focus on the metro areas of South Florida, Tampa, Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Since 2007, COI has worked with over 2,500 children.
This month, COI is undertaking an ambitious Earth Day project titled, KidPower2015 Earth Day Project, with the goal of encouraging COI kids to be leaders in the movement to protect the Earth for future generations. COI kids will be participating in this joint project with fourth graders at Hollywood Central Elementary School and the children at the Light of Future School #1 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Children at Light of Future School #1, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Learning Activities Planned For KidPower2015
1. Construct bicycle generators to power laptop computers. They will develop engineering and math skills while learning a simple, clean energy technology to generate electricity.
My husband & I test the equipment in our KidPower2015 Lab.
2. Explore environmental protection and conservation needs in their countries.
3. Share learning experiences through video-conferencing.
4. Utilize the creative arts (music, visual arts, and dance) to express Earth Day Network’s 2015 theme, “It’s Our Turn to Lead.”
Children with incarcerated parents often struggle with mental illness, poor school performance, and antisocial behaviors. Many of the infants and younger children suffer from attachment disorders, malnutrition, and lack of attention from remaining caregivers. Using family-based interventions, COI helps the children and families to connect with each other and with appropriate community resources. The majority of COI participants reside in low-income communities where they face a plethora of risk factors and social stigmas, overlooked by both the criminal justice and social services systems.
I have learned that if program participants can transition from being recipients of services to servant leaders, the trajectory of their lives begins to dramatically change. Destiny, Annabelle, and their mom, Maria are examples of this transition. Maria, Destiny, and Anabelle enrolled in COI four years ago. At that time, they were struggling as a family, but Maria had hope. She not only began to attend the quarterly COI Bonding Visits so the girls could visit their father, she began to bring the girls to our weekly family support groups. The girls also became active in our summer camp program and out of school programs.
Over time, Maria decided that it was time for their family to give back. She and her daughters added weekly volunteer hours in our Sunday morning children’s program, KidsZone. Rather than viewing themselves as at-risk children needing to be enrolled in a social service program, the girls have begun to see themselves as leaders. When I started to develop the KidPower2015 Earth Day Project, I immediately thought that Destiny and Annabelle would make great project KidPower2015 Ambassadors. A few days ago, Annabelle and Destiny took one of our new bikes out for a test drive.
Annabelle and Destiny ride the new bicycle.
This was the first of three bikes that have become bicycle generators for the KidPower2015 project. The girls were able to be the first kids testing the equipment.
Annabelle and Destiny with the bicycle generator and computer.
The bicycle generators traveled to Hollywood Central Elementary School on Monday, March 16, 2015. Eighty 4th grade students had the opportunity to test the equipment and learn about converting physical energy to electrical energy. The classroom served as the project’s “proving grounds.”
Kids use a volt meter to explore the bicycle’s ability to generate energy.
In Ms. Nunez’s class, we made a protein shake with the
electrical energy generated by the students.
On March 23, 2015, the bicycle generators begin two weeks of travel across the State of Florida with COI. The COI families will participate in the learning activities that were developed at Hollywood Central Elementary by Ms. Nunez. Finally, one of bicycle generators will be installed at the Light of Future School in Cambodia. The children there will also participate in the same learning activities. As our Ambassadors, Annabelle and Destiny will lead our Skype conversation with the kids at Light of Future School #1 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who will be participating in the same project. The big difference is that for the children at the Light of Future School, the bicycle generator will not only be a great classroom learning opportunity, it will be the first source of electricity in the school.
If you would like to get involved in positively impacting the lives of children through the Children of Inmates, Inc. program or the KidPower2015 Earth Day Project, please consider making a financial donation to COI. The Children of Inmates, Inc. is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. Children of Inmates, Inc., 1835 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd. #387, Hallandale Beach, Florida 33009