By TOM GODFREY
Justice services students from Centennial College have raised $4,000 to help with the purchase of a bus by a local charity to take kids and their moms to visit loved ones who are incarcerated in Toronto-area jails.
The funds were donated to F.E.A.T. for Children of Incarcerated Parents, which has been operated for more than three years by Derek Reid and his daughter, Jessica, on a shoestring budget.
The non-profit service has been raising funds to replace its aging 24-seat bus that is used daily for programs or to transport children, mothers and families to visit mostly fathers held in custody for immigration or criminal offences.
Reid was presented with a cheque this week at the Scarborough college, whose students took part in “It takes a Village” initiative to help the children get a better start in life.
“This is really touching and rewarding for us,” an emotional Reid told Share. “It is very encouraging to see these students take the time from their studies to help families.”
He said the students chose to help F.E.A.T. and spent a lot of time and effort on the fundraising project.
“We are very fortunate and encouraged by this show of support,” said Reid. “This will go a long way in helping the families we serve.”
He said the amount brings to $40,000 what has been collected so far to purchase the $70,000 bus.
College president, Ann Buller; area councillor, Ron Moeser and a number of students were on hand to show their support for the service that helps keep families together.
Professor Shelley Upshaw, of the Community and Justice Service Program, said about 100 students took part in fundraising events every Monday night by holding raffles, draws and even staging “Looney Mondays”.
“This is really an inspirational story about our youth, the Scarborough community and how you can become the difference,” Upshaw told Share. “Feel-good stories are often overshadowed by stories of crime and deviance.”
She said the students were committed to helping the children and raised the funds in four days.
“This project was originally intended to be a small-scale fundraising initiative but that changed when the entire community joined us to transform the lives of children at risk,” said Upshaw.
She said the project was well-received by community residents, who gave generously.
“We have received an overwhelming response from the community at large in terms of support and donations,” said Upshaw. “The initiative is also receiving good exposure through word of mouth and social media.”
The service, which costs a nominal fee, is popular with families whose loved ones are being held on immigration hold in Lindsay at the Central East Correctional Centre.
The bus makes trips to Lindsay on Mondays and Thursdays so children can see their fathers from behind glass before they are deported from Canada.
“These are really sad visits for the families involved,” said Jessica. “Most of the men held here are facing deportation and may not see their kids or wives for a long time.”
She said the bus travels on the weekends to maximum or medium security institutions that are in locations that usually take a full day to visit from Toronto.
The group helps about 350 families in the GTA, who do not have vehicles or cannot afford the trip with their children. Families are picked up at agreed locations for the trip.
The group has held a number of fundraisers, including one last summer that saw Jessica walking from Toronto to Kingston.
The service also offers free peer mentorship and after-school programming twice weekly in the Jane and Finch community.
F.E.A.T., which stands for Fostering, Empowering, Advocating Together, was established to address the needs of the more than 15,000 children in the GTA who have a parent in the criminal justice system.
The impact of parental incarceration on children can be devastating, workers said, adding children have to cope with family instability, economic insecurity, poor academic performance, stigmatization, as well as compromised self-esteem, trust and sense of security.