I had to have some seed money so I began to look for funding. Each year, The National Education Association and Youth Service America awards 20 literacy grants in their Annual “Read Across America” project. As a member of the National Junior Honor Society, I had to participate in a competition in some form. I decided to write a grant and apply for money that was being presented for literacy projects. Out of over 300 hundred applications, I was one of only 20 youth chosen to receive a grant in the amount of $500.00 from the National Education Association and Youth Service America for the submission of the project called “PEN Pals Book Club for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Peers Engaged and Networking).”
I then began to talk to my peers, adults that we knew and respected and the minister at church in charge of the prison ministry. I was careful whom I asked to be a part of the book club because I knew everyone would not want to participate. At the same time, my mom and I began to gather the names of the children of incarcerated parents that we sponsored at Christmas. Once we gathered our peer and adult mentors, we were ready to get started. The Kick-Off for the “PEN Pals Book Club was held at Greenville Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church with some very excited youth, adult mentors and Mr. Vince Coakley, WSOC-TV’s anchor for “Eyewitness News” weeknights. He delivered a wonderful speech inspiring the children with scripture and wisdom. Mr. Coakley let them know they can make a world of difference in another child’s life. He also encouraged them to let the children of incarcerated parents know that someone cares about them. The PEN Pals Book Club has definitely had a wonderful impact on the people that have been involved. We have worked to increase literacy by our monthly or bi-monthly novel readings. We have dealt with teen drinking and driving with “The Booze It or Lose It” workshop, discussed teen suicide by distributing literature for the suicide hotline and we dealt with the subject of death of teens and how the youth felt. The book club adopted a family form the Battered Women’s Shelter, providing Christmas gifts and food. Later, the group would help this family find housing and assist them with furnishings and collect clothing for them. We helped collect sanitary supplies for young ladies as part of the “Education for Africa” project and served food and distributed blankets, towels and linen at the Men’s homeless shelter. Several club members spent the evening with members of the South African Honors Choir and the group listened to an evening of music from the African Children’s Choir. Many of these peer mentors had the opportunity to experience a ballet for the first time, attend dance recitals, plays, reading festivals, and basketball games. Our activities have benefited the children of incarcerated parents, adult caregivers for these youth, former incarcerated adults, peer mentors (pen pals) and adults that actively work with these youth. This group has affected the lives of over 700 people in various capacities. And we expect to see this number continue to rise in the future. It is my goal to see this book club flourish throughout our county and state and then across the United States with chapters in each state. I would like to see this club have international chapters as well.