When families sit down to dinner on Thanksgiving, there are hundreds of children in our area who'll be missing a member of the family at the table.
The Hope House of DC has come up with a way for men in prison to connect with their kids over the holidays, and all year long through art.
For one week during the summer, children are reunited with their incarcerated dads for summer camp behind prison walls. A highlight is making a mural together. This year's theme was the perfect day if father and child could be together.
Ten year old Jiyah, who's been doing gymnastics since she was seven, made her mural about winning a Gold medal, with her dad watching. So far, he's never seen her compete.
"He's been away, or he didn't have a car. My mural is about if he could actually make it to one of my competitions,"Jiyah says.
Hope House Executive Director Carol Fennelly says it started as the Lorton prison in Virginia was shutting down, and DC inmates were being shipped to facilities across the country. It was a way for the fathers to stay connected with their kids. The camp is magical, especially the last day.
"When fathers watch their children walk away, if they didn't get it before, the consequences of what they've done, they get it then. It changes people," Fennelly says. "The kids also learn they weren't abandoned by their fathers, they still love them, and that's important."
Besides the murals, the children leave camp with so much more. They leave with hope. Jiyay and her dad wrote about it in a journal.
"I look in that journal every day, and I say wow. We learned a lot about each other," Jiyay says.
Hope House holds three summer camps each summer in Maryland and North Carolina.
For more information, the number to call is 202-506-2253.
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