Like so many effective undertakings, it started with a nun.
Hour Children began informally in the 1980s when Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, CSJ, became a foster parent to eight children of incarcerated mothers at her convent. Incorporated in 1992, it has expanded from a program that provided care to the children of women imprisoned at Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities to a leading provider of prison and community based programs that support “these fragile women and their families as they work to transform their lives and achieve self sufficiency” in Long Island City, Queens County, New York.
As its website states (www.hourchildren.org), Hour Children’s vision is to end the cycle of intergenerational incarceration. Its mission is “to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children successfully rejoin the community, reunify with their families, and build healthy, independent and secure lives”. To accomplish this, Hour Children provides compassionate and comprehensive services to the children, their mothers and their families and encourages all to live and interact with dignity and respect.
The name of the organization refers to those critical moments, those hours, that youngsters have with their mothers who are incarcerated: the hour of arrest, the hours of visitation, and the hour of release. Its programs include: transitional and permanent supportive housing, employment training and placement, case management and therapeutic services, pre- and post- release adult mentoring, day care, parenting education, transportation and visitation services, mental health support, and thrift shops.
Serving kids four years old and younger – including infants – it offers quality childcare and developmental support to the children from “Hour families” and to the general community. In addition it includes an after school club and a summer camp program.
The majority of the women served are in prison for non-violent or drug related offenses, lack a high school education, and have children under the age of eighteen Sixteen percent are Caucasian; the rest are African American and Latina. Fewer than half have been employed prior to their arrests. In response to the daunting challenges facing these ex-offenders Hour Children offers a Working Women Program that teaches the necessary skills for gainful employment and bolsters it with effective and continuing mentoring. The program includes external and internal internship placement, job placement (involving a broad network of employers willing to hire ex-offenders) and intensive support for job retention.
As its website modestly puts it: “Hour Children’s recidivism rate is 3.5%, significantly lower than the 39.9% published by NYS.”
This inspiring and effective endeavor is categorized as “non-sectarian”. One recalls the line in Isaiah (42.7) about freeing captives from prison. Does anyone really wonder why it is so successful?