Feb 8, 2015

"Who Would Have Known?": Unexpected Gifts from The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest

The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, located on E. 90th Street and 5th Avenue, took a leap of faith last month and hosted a panel discussion with its congregants about incarceration and reentry. The following week, they worked hand-in-hand creating over 80 care packages for people coming home from prison in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory.  The care packages would be offered to clients who participate in prison reentry programs at the Harlem Community Justice Center, a community court in East Harlem that works with its neighbors to solve local challenges and Network in the Community, a therapeutic reentry and community reintegration program that works with formerly incarcerated individuals.

Reentry client receiving a "Welcome Home" care package 
The gifts were received this week, with heartfelt appreciation, at the Harlem Community Justice Center. There was a mixture of excitement and skepticism as I passed out Heavenly Rest's care packages while our clients  waited to see their parole officers. The packages contained a scarf, hat, gloves, socks and a gift card to a local grocery store. 

As I sat with each client, explaining who the package was from and what inspired this project, they struggled to comprehend that a group of strangers cared about them...that someone they didn't know cared if they were warm this winter.  One of the young men that received a bag immediately put on the hat and said to his friend, “We should take a selfie and put this on Instagram, we just got a present AT PAROLE!!! No one is gonna believe this.” Ironically, his friend had previously declined the bag. After seeing his peer’s excitement and the bag's contents,  he bashfully asked me if he could still have one. Others were showing each other the gloves and proclaiming their excitement for the snow this weekend because they were well-equipped for it.

This was a transformative moment for many of our clients, who frequently experience rejection and isolation from positive social institutions and people, but like all of us, seek belonging and acceptance. In the words of one of our participants, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Who would have known?”

Thank you to the Church of Heavenly Rest for your care and inclusion, showing those returning from prison that we need them in our community and want them to stay home. 

Written By Amanda Levering, Strategic Coordinator of  Sharing the Journey Home: Harlem (formerly know as the Reentry Family and Faith Circles of Support). Lovingly Funded by the  J.C. Flowers Foundation,  Sharing the Journey Home is a local Harlem reentry partnership that includes The Harlem Community Justice Center, The Interfaith Center of New York, and Network in the Community. Sharing the Journey Home cultivates leadership among the formerly incarcerated, their families, and faith leaders to strengthen our communities.