I had an “ah-ha moment” recently when I was invited to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla to receive a financial donation given by the inmates.
There were close to 50 various recipients representing a variety of causes related to women, children, youth development and family-related needs. The inmates gave over $47,000 to our community-based organizations in the San Joaquin Valley. Our causes were schools, churches, rescue missions, American Cancer Society, Valley Children’s Hospital Guild, Ronald McDonald House, an animal shelter, veterans organizations, soup kitchens, Valley Teen Ranch Residential Treatment Center and many others.
After being checked into the facility, we were introduced to about 25 women inmates representing six inmate leisure time activity groups. The inmates shared their names, the names of their groups and what their particular groups focus on inside the prison as well as the outside community.
One group, for example, represents veterans because there are inmates who have served in the military. Before they are released, they want to give back to those who are serving our country.
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Another group is the long-term inmates, who will only get out if there is a miracle. They want to help give back because many likely will never get out to help anyone else.
There is a group called Generation to Generation, which chose to help our youths at Valley Teen Ranch. These women want to help members of the younger generation so when they get older, they won’t become offenders who are locked up for committing crimes.
There is also a juvenile-offender group, composed of women who committed crimes as minors, but by the time they were sentenced, they were adults. All of the ladies were articulate, vulnerable, remorseful, sincere and have the desire to compensate for the pain and destruction they have caused others. They are wives, mothers, sisters and ladies who have made mistakes.
But that day was about giving to others. They researched all of the agencies they chose to support, because we did not apply. I had no idea there was such a program inside the prison.
After the ladies introduced themselves, Warden Deborah K. Johnson introduced the community groups and gave us our checks. Then we had a few minutes to tell about our organizations and how we were going to use the money we received.
Our checks ranged from $500 to $5,000! We all were so moved by the generosity and sincerity from the inmates.
Brian Davi, administrative assistant/public information officer at the prison, explains that the inmate leisure time activity groups get to request a fundraiser every 90 days for the inmate population. The fundraisers have a slight markup for items from stores like Costco, KFC, Famous Dave’s and Sam’s Club. The funds raised are distributed to the community nonprofits.
Our gratitude paled in comparison to their heartfelt giving. The smiles (and tears) on everyone’s faces were overwhelming. The exchange of gratitude, hope, help, kindness and joy was extraordinary. There were no underdogs in the room. We were all top dogs.
This was the most unbelievable and amazing donation we have ever received in the 28 years I have been working for Valley Teen Ranch. The Bible says “God loves a cheerful giver,” and “it is more blessed to give than receive.” I have honestly never witnessed the giving and receiving like this before.
My heart is full and overflowing with gratitude and astonishment. Thank you to the ladies and staff at the Central California Women’s Facility. May you be blessed, as you have been a blessing to others this holiday season.
Connie Clendenan is a social worker and chief executive officer of Valley Teen Ranch in Madera.