Southwest Tennessee Community College

June 8, 2005

For more information, contact Kimberly Stark (901) 333-4023

Project REACHH Helps Children and Fathers Reconnect Through Visitation

Project REACHH (Re-energizing Attachment, Communication, Health and Happiness) is a special visitation program for children of male prisoners at the Shelby County Division of Corrections and is funded by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This program has been put into place by a group of community leaders from all areas of business, education, medicine, non-profit and government agencies including county, city and police officials.

The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission provided the leadership for a comprehensive collaborative planning process to develop a systemic approach for providing programs and services to children of incarcerated individuals in Memphis and Shelby County. According to their web site (www.memphiscrime.org), “Parental incarceration causes chaos and trauma in the life of a child. Children with parents in prison suffer a wide range of negative emotions and experiences which may place them at a higher risk for becoming the victim of neglect and abuse, truancy, early pregnancy and delinquency.”

The Project REACHH program keeps children and parents connected. Currently, the program has two visitations each week on Monday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8. Presently, 41 children are participating in the visitation. “When children would go to visit their father in the prison they faced challenges that we as adults do not normally see. The telephone they use to contact someone inside was well out of their reach, as was the window that would allow them to see the guards and communicate with them to be able to visit with their parent,” said Dr. Ralph Chumbley, executive director of Continuing Education and Community Partnerships at Southwest Tennessee Community College and one of the members of the community group working with the Crime Commission. “We are trying to humanize the penal system and have people realized that the families of prisoners are often the true victims.”

“Virtually all the children participating in Project REACHH had not seen their fathers since they had been incarcerated or had come once to a regular visitation and were so traumatized by the experience that they would not come back,” said Randi Guigui, project coordinator for Youth Partnerships Development and faculty member at Southwest. “With Project REACHH visitations now set, the children are jumping out of bed in the mornings because they know they will be visiting and are excited and full of joyful anticipation of getting to see their dads.”

Southwest is involved as an education liaison for the program. “As a member of the community, Southwest is involved with a wide variety of programs that better the lives of those within the community,” said Chumbley. “It’s simple, education is about making life better.” Project REACHH is also working in conjunction with the Criminal Justice Students at Southwest to allow them to do their field placement as part of their studies. Currently, Southwest has one student participating in the program.

Other projects of the group include the Dream Academy with Boys and Girls Club, which is a mentoring program for children of prisoners and parenting classes. The parenting classes are being taught by the Exchange Club. Fathers will be graduating from parenting classes on June 9, 2005.

“An outcome we had not planned for in the program was the incredible impact the parenting classes and program (Project REACHH) is having on the men,” said Guigui. “I have seen fathers hold their baby girl for the first time, twin boys celebrate their birthday with their father and a pre-teen girl go from angry at the world to actually smiling and having fun with everyone, including the staff, in just two visits with her dad.”

For more information on the projects or how to volunteer contact Randi Guigui at Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, 119 South Main Street, Suite 450, Memphis, TN 38103 (901) 678-2738 (telephone) or (901) 678-5723 (fax), via email at rguigui@memphiscrime.org or visit www.memphiscrime.org.