Little Readers Program Helps Children of Incarcerated Loved Ones “Grow Up Great”
There are 75,000 children in Georgia who have a parent in prison—and that doesn’t include kids with a parent in a jail or county detention center. That’s why HeartBound Ministries founded the Little Readers Book Club, which places children’s books in prison visitation rooms so kids can read and bond with their incarcerated moms and dads.
“There’s little to do in a prison visitation room other than sit, chat, and eat from a vending machine. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to encourage kids and families to read together,” said Andrea Shelton, president of HeartBound Ministries. “Parents are their children’s most enduring teachers and can model good behavior—even from prison—so we have to make the most of every opportunity and get kids reading.”
HeartBound offers incentives for kids to read along with their parents. Children who read 10 or more books during their visits are given a postcard to send to HeartBound, and the ministry then mails a prize pack that includes a new book.
“This program gives incarcerated parents the opportunity to invest in their children academically and emotionally, and HeartBound has been overwhelmed by the gratitude expressed by the participants—especially the inmates,” said Shelton. “They never dreamed that once they went to prison they’d have the opportunity to read and bond with their children.”
HeartBound’s Little Readers program also allows children to see and hear their incarcerated parents or grandparents reading to them via DVD. The package sent to the children includes a copy of the book, a personalized bookmark, a New Testament Bible, literacy resources, information for a children’s correspondence Bible study, and healthy nutritional tips.
Children who experience paternal incarceration between ages 1 and 5 are more likely to be retained in grades K – 3. The program aims to promote a culture of literacy in homes impacted by incarceration and to empower incarcerated parents to invest in their children’s academic futures so kids can thrive and learn.
The personalized read-aloud DVDs also help ease children’s anxieties about their loved ones’ absence. Children can watch their DVD repeatedly, providing continuous connections as they see a parent or grandparent reading—often for the first time.
One family member said, “Little Readers has made my kids want to read more. The kids see that their dad loves them. It also helps them sleep at night when they watch their dad read to them. This is a great program that helps children in more ways than we will ever know.”
HeartBound hosts an annual inmate art exhibit and sale called “Art from the Inside” that showcases the often-overlooked artistic talents of Georgia’s inmates, who donate their art to benefit the Little Readers program.
During Read Across Georgia Month in March, inmates had another opportunity to share their talents when HeartBound hosted a poster contest to encourage children to read with their loved ones during prison visits. The winning entry was from Coastal State Prison in Savannah.
“Prison visitation rooms are typically sparse,” Shelton explained. “We knew it would be easy to get the attention of children and adults by placing posters on the wall that were created by inmates who are artistically gifted and passionate about the Little Readers program.”
To date, 38 correctional facilities in Georgia have participated in the Little Readers program and book club, reaching more than 4,650 children and 2,400 inmates.
“Few people realize we men want to be a part of our children’s lives,” said one father. “I was taught how to drive, taught a trade—but never taught how to be a parent. This program is great. It should be in every prison in the country.”
For more information, contact HeartBound Ministries at [email protected] or 404-262-0709.