By Ardell Bailey
OYA Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations
On Dec. 13, the local chapter of the Foundation for Academic and Cultural Exchange (F.A.C.E.) volunteered to provide gifts, a meal, and holiday fun for youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.
OYA’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR) sought out F.A.C.E. to sponsor the celebration as a way to make the holiday season less stressful for youth.
Six of MacLaren’s living units participated by identifying youth who don’t typically receive a lot of family support (phone calls, contact, or visits). Thirty youth each filled out a gift request “wish list” form in advance, and the F.A.C.E. volunteers purchased the items the youth had selected. The volunteers — Maryanne Azdine, Caroline Richardson, and Ed Schulmerich — asked the youth to be specific with their requests, so that they could receive exactly what they wanted.
The event started out with all the youth introducing themselves, and then they ate dinner together. After dinner, all youth participated in bingo and every one of them won a prize. If one youth had already won, he would find someone who had not won and give his board to him. This was encouraging to see, as some of these youth would never share with each other or be this thoughtful to one another outside of the facility.
Christina Puentes, OYA’s youth conflict resolution coordinator, also assisted with the holiday activity. We had youth from different cultural backgrounds and with different gang affiliations attending. It was fascinating to see them socialize like teenagers without having to worry about gang rivalries.
The youth were very appreciative of the event. One youth said, “This was the best Christmas I ever had.” Another said, “It was a day where I forgot being incarcerated.” And a third youth told me, “I had more food, gifts, and people that care about me around than ever before.”
Funaki Letisi, a juvenile parole and probation officer in OYA’s Marion County office, also attended and gave these closing thoughts: “This was a great event. I really enjoy seeing the boys be boys and socializing with each other like any other youth would in the community. It is nice to see the boys act and be treated like youth that were not in a facility.”
The volunteers enjoyed seeing the youth appreciate the food, bingo, gifts, and social time. The youth also got to take back a unit puzzle for everyone on their living unit to do together. Volunteers Maryanne, Caroline, and Ed are altruists at heart — they have volunteered with OYA in different ways for the past 20 years (recruiting speakers and cultural performers, organizing art classes, donating holiday gifts, etc.). They are always willing to support the youth and remind them that there are people in the community who care and want them to be successful.
Thank you to these staff who supported the holiday event:
And thanks to the amazing volunteers from F.A.C.E.!