Holiday Party for Kids of Incarcerated Parents Aims to Illuminate Their Bright Futures

Organizers hope kids will feel love and support from the community at a time when they may be missing their parents.

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A holiday party in Hartford is making dozens of children smile. Organizers want these kids to feel the love this season, because they have parents that are or have been incarcerated.

“It’s the best time,” Kamar Arroyo, a 10-year-old that lives in Bristol and Waterbury, said. “Everyone, families and friends, getting together.”

For these kids, there is a Santa and Mrs. Claus sighting, and the chance to take home a present.

“At times they can go around and get a second and third gift,” Martina Jacobs, Children of Color Organization (COCO) youth coordinator, said.

Many of the toys donated come from Toys for Tots.

About 60 kids gathered to celebrate the season at the 10th annual Holiday Celebration for Children of Incarcerated Parents.

“On my wish list, what I really want for Christmas honestly is for my whole family to be together. And that’s...my gift is happening right now,” Arroyo said.

The event is run by the Children of Color Organization, or COCO, and many involved know exactly what the kids are going through.

“I grew up with my father being pretty much non-existent due to incarceration,” Isaiah Jacobs, COCO CEO, said.

“My dad went to jail when I was maybe seven, six years old. So he was in jail until I was 19. That's a long time to not have a father,” Quaniece Jones, of Windsor, said.

Both Jones and Jacobs grew up with dads in prison.

“I think a lot of the words that I can say that I felt were shame​,” Jones said.

They each found the path to success, and now they want to share that inspiration with these kids.

Jones published a book about self care called "Self Love: A Silent Revolution." She is giving a speech at the holiday party.

“I just want to say that what happens to you is not who you are,” she said.

Jacobs returned from college to Hartford to be a role model for the next generation.

​“I still live in the same community that I grew up in, I walk the same streets,” Jacobs said. “That way, the little guys walking down the street, he's more relatable, you are more relatable. Just being able to see someone that looks like them who made it through the same obstacles.​”

Members of UConn’s Children with Incarcerated Parents Initiative say the holidays can be especially lonely for the kids.

“Children of incarcerated parents in general missed their parents a lot. I mean, it is really tough to be away from your mom or dad,” Irvine Pecks-Agaya, UConn CIP initiative coordinator, said. “This is an opportunity for them to look back at the holidays and think about celebration, joy.”

As the children celebrate Christmas, and new at this year’s event also Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, they also get to meet local police officers and firefighters.

“They're going to see community members here to support them. Representatives from the police department, the fire department, probation, other community members,” Aileen Keays, UConn CIP initiative director, said. “They're going to see neighbors and school friends that are going through a similar experience.”

It is all as the community gives them a collective hug.

“One thing we do show is an example of people that was once broken. And we're survivors that became fixed,” Martina Jacobs said.

The goal is to send a message that their futures can be as bright as the star on top of the tree.

“A lot of youth that I work with, if you ask them what their future looks like, they're not sure they're gonna make it past today,” Isaiah Jacobs said. “So just giving them the idea that hope and faith, that you can plan for your future."

Many at the party Wednesday night went home carrying the holiday spirit.

“I’m seeing my friends, my family, everyone in my family,” Arroyo said. “I’m happy about it.”

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