Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership
To better acquaint our members and the greater community with our grantees, we are highlighting some of the nonprofit organizations that have received WGC grant funds. This quarter, we reached out to Shari Ostrow Scher, Executive Director of Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership. This organization is a long-time WGC grantee and we are happy to support the important work they are doing for the women in our community who are caring for children in the difficult circumstances surrounding parental incarceration.
Please introduce yourself. What is your role at your organization and how long have you been with the organization.
My name is Shari Ostrow Scher. I am a lifelong teacher and the retired Early Childhood Specialist and Family Involvement Supervisor for Frederick County Public Schools, and a retired Adjunct Professor for Hood College. I am the Founder and Executive Director of Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (COIPP). I started this non-profit about 18 years ago..
What is the mission of the organization, and what personally moves you about that mission?
The mission of COIPP is: to foster the growth of strong, resilient, hopeful children who are impacted by an incarcerated loved one in the Frederick County region. This mission means a great deal to me. Many years ago, when I was a teenager, my Dad who I loved greatly went unexpectedly to jail. At that time there was no organization to help kids like me. Now, 60 years later, that has not changed both nationally and internationally. Because of my personal experience, as well as my experience observing the needs that these children have, I feel very passionate about helping all children in this situation.
What are the most significant challenges that the organization is facing right now? What are the most significant challenges faced by the clients/populations that you serve?
Our organization faces many issues including raising enough funds to hire staff. We have powered on. Until recently we were an all-volunteer organization. Though we now have two part-time employees, it is time for us to have office staff in order to remove some of the burdensome work from our wonderful cadre of volunteers and give us the ability to grow. Our families face numerous issues. The children often struggle with low esteem, and academic, social, and emotional upset. The families struggle financially, especially as a result of COVID when so many caregivers lost jobs. In addition, if and when the family member in jail/prison returns home, there are often issues surrounding reconnecting with children and families.
What is the nature of the Giving Circle grant that you received, and what impact will it have on women and their dependents in Frederick?
Our last funding was extremely helpful and meaningful. One of the things we do for our families is offer scholarships to Frederick Community College. Frederick Women's Circle is a main source of our scholarship money. Thanks to their generosity over the years, many women have been able to go to school and become better earners, as well as increase their self-concept. This is such a help to the entire family. A second grant we received this year has allowed us to fund Financial Literacy Workshops. We are doing these with a group of women who have been attending our monthly Respite Meetings. We have partnered with Middletown Valley Bank and will be holding our second Financial Literacy meeting this week. The workshop has been a smashing success with our participants wanting more. Reaching financial solvency can only be a plus for our families. In addition, the FWGC founded resources that we chose for each family. These included games, books, and resources about finances. We believe that our children need to start young understanding financial literacy, and thanks to the resources, caregivers and children can work together as they learn about savings, budgeting, and more.
Do you have any specific “stories” that you can share with us that illustrate what you are doing in the community?
Our stories are many. However, I think that this note from one of our scholarship students says it best:
First and foremost, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generous donations and for your scholarship that helps break barriers. There is a stigma associated with having parents who are or have been incarcerated. Many think that as a child of incarcerated parents, we have made poor life decisions and will not be able to build a successful life. They may believe that our circumstances will lead us to follow our parents' footsteps, to continue the cycle of crime, drug abuse, and "failure". It could turn out that way for some children, not because they inherited a criminal mindset, but because they faced an abundance of stigma from their peers, employers, and doctors. This scholarship helps break the stigma and lay a foundation of hope for children of incarcerated parents to build a future they have always dreamed of. I was one to follow the footsteps of my parents and fall into some very poor decisions, however, I am also one who is now rising above all I have hoped for, working as a Peer Recovery Specialist, and beginning the journey to becoming an addiction counselor and social worker. I could never have had this opportunity if it were not for your support and for others who are like-minded, allowing me to see my true potential and live a life my children will be proud of. Thank you, and God bless you.
Is there anything further that members of the Giving Circle can do to help, in terms of volunteering, in-kind donations, etc?
We are always in need of more. We are trying to raise money for paid staff, as I alluded to earlier. We have become too big to be powered by volunteers. We are also beginning to look for sponsors for different activities. We also need in-kind donations. We never have enough diapers, wipes, new winter coats, hygiene supplies, and more for our families. Any in-kind, financial donations or sponsorships would be greatly appreciated.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of the most important things I have to add is that our parents do love their children, regardless of where they are today. They may have made unwise decisions, fallen in with a bad crowd, or come under the influence of drugs. However, they really want the best for their kids, and that is what we are trying to give. Our caregivers are of all ages, some being grandmothers or even great-grandmothers. They often find themselves in a difficult position, for they are ill-prepared or not expecting to be raising children at this time in their lives They often have limited education, and find themselves overwhelmed by life. In addition, regardless of one's personal stance on law and order, the children have not done anything wrong. They are the innocent victims.