Growing up with a father who was in and out of prison was a defining part of Chace Evan’s childhood.
Evans was 4 the first time his father went to prison.
He remembers one visit in particular he and his mom made to see his father.
“We walked out and I started crying and my mom starting crying, too. I was so confused, sad and angry,” he said.
Evans had a lot of anger issues when he was younger, which he believes stemmed from his father’s incarcerations.
Evans’ mother has also been in prison and she was worried that her son could follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“I was a fiendish child,” Evans admitted.
Evans, a senior at Broken Arrow High School, will graduate this spring — making him one of the first in his immediate family to do so — and plans on enrolling in college.
He credits the help he received from New Hope for shaping his life.
“As I was growing up (my father’s incarcerations) did impact me a lot. I wouldn’t understand why it kept happening because I was so little,” he said. “New Hope helped me out a lot with that because when you come here you can look around and know you are not the only one going through this. Each and every person here is going through the same thing and is along for the ride with you.”
New Hope is a nonprofit working with children of prisoners to break the generational cycle of incarceration through after-school, community and summer-camp programs.
“Being able to come here and learn skills and build self-efficacy and self-esteem are big goals and letting them know they can be anything they want to be and they can still love their parent and still choose a different path,” said Lindsay Fry-Geier, executive director.
This is Evans’ 11th year in the New Hope program. He started when he was 8, after his mom found out about the summer camp and enrolled him in it.
“It was awesome. It was the first time I ever went to camp,” he said.
The agency’s after-school programs meet four days a week at eight different area schools. Through the community program, youth come to the agency’s office at Trinity Episcopal Church three days a week.
The programs are age-specific and include support groups, educational opportunities, case management, character building and other activities.
“Chace was a little bit of a camp terror his first year,” said Fry-Geier, adding that she’s heard stories of him climbing roofs and throwing rocks, things that were typical behavior for Evans at the time.
“When I started at New Hope five years ago, Chace pulled a fire alarm on my first Tuesday night and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, this child.’
“And he has matured into such a wonderful young man. We are just so proud of him.”
Evans now volunteers on Thursdays to help the younger kids in the Rhoades Elementary School after-school program by tutoring and being a mentor to them.
Fry-Geier said one of the goals of the program is to remain a part of each child’s life through high school and beyond.
“We want to walk beside them and hold their hand as they navigate the difficulties associated with parental incarceration,” she said.
To be eligible for the program, children must have a parent or caregiver incarcerated. However, they can stay in the program after their caregiver or parent is released.
“We want to be that constant support in that child’s life and maybe be the only consistency they have,” Fry-Geier said.
Evans said his father has been out of prison for several years and he doesn’t see his dad returning to prison, but he still relies on the New Hope program.
“When you keep coming back, it reinforces what you’ve learned and you keep building on it,” he said.
The agency started as a summer camp program through the Episcopal church in 1991 and became its own nonprofit in 2007, expanding its programming the following year.
“We felt like we were having really great outcomes with the summer camps, but looking at the longevity — we know that the more points of contact you have, the better their outcomes are going to be — we felt that having year-round contact would mitigate some of the negative effects we would see in our kids,” Fry-Greier said.
“It’s a complex group of children that face a risk that is much greater than even their matched peers that live in poverty or that face pre-existing disadvantage.”
Article by: Mike Averill of Tulsa World | Click here to read