For a child, watching a parent go to prison can create a sense of isolation and trauma that doesn’t go away without help. So, with these children in mind, help is just what the New Hope Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma is offering.
New Hope got started when members of the Episcopal Church learned, while visiting a local prison, that the greatest concern of inmates was the children they had left behind. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, affecting over 26,000 children in the state. These children, according to recent studies, are five times more likely to enter prison than their peers.
Jennifer Davis has made it her personal mission to help the children of incarcerated adults find support and hope through New Hope. Davis, an LPC, discovered the organization when she moved to Oklahoma from Nebraska a few years ago, and its mission struck a chord with her. “I really felt like it was something very special and needed in the state,” she says. “It was something I wanted to be a part of, if even a small part, so I started working 10 hours a week for them running after-school groups.” Two years later, Jennifer runs all of New Hope’s programming – from after-school programs to summer camps – and it’s a career she feels passionately about. “Being a voice for these children, being a voice for criminal justice reform in our state, in my mind is a perfect fit,” she says.
Davis was introduced to the WhyTry Program while working in a group home in Nebraska, when a newer boy bluntly informed her that her group therapy was “boring.” She asked for suggestions on how to improve, and the boy told her about a program called WhyTry they’d used in the detention center he’d just left. “He said he’d really liked it and learned a lot… I don’t think there’s a better recommendation than an 18-year-old boy saying he used this curriculum and liked it.”
Davis has brought the program with her everywhere she’s been since, and it’s now used as part of New Hope’s after-school program in local elementary schools. The result? “All of the metaphors that the WhyTry curriculum has is what our kids need to learn how to break that cycle of incarceration, get out of the cycle of poverty that our families are in, and be positive, productive members of society,” she says.
Lots of things are stacked against the kids who have lost parents to incarceration, but Davis believes resilience education can help their lives take a turn for the better. “These are wonderful kids with wonderful potential,” she says. “They just need somebody there to say ‘You can do this, you have the skills that you need, let me point them out to you and help you use them in a productive way.’”
Where does such a strong belief come from? For Davis, this conviction is tied to who she is today and how she got here. “I grew up with parents who both struggled with mental health and substance abuse problems in my childhood,” she explains. “Honestly, the reason that I am a program director with an LPC is because somebody believed in me and taught me those skills that I needed to overcome the situation that I faced growing up.”
For more information on New Hope’s mission, visit their website at www.newhopeoklahoma.org.