By Fidel Garcia, Volunteer Services Coordinator, Evins campus
Seems like it was yesterday when TJJD families gathered at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center for a family day. But it was many months ago!
Fast forward almost a full two years, and we enjoyed our first quarterly in-person family day since the pandemic began in March 2020. It came just in time for Mother’s Day 2022 and kicked off with the youth making cards for their mothers during an arts and craft activity led by our caseworkers. The young men then gave the finished cards to their moms or guardians.
“We had a great turn-out,” said Family Reentry Specialist Crystela Garza, who coordinated the event, “The youth and their families were able to enjoy time together to continue working on developing that family bond and connection. We were able to provide families with pizza, drinks, nachos, and snow cones.”
Garza thanked Café Manager Martina Villarreal for the baked fresh pineapple turnovers she made as dessert for everyone. “All staff were just very helpful, and we thank them all,” Garza said.
Case managers helped entertain the families, running a variety of fun interactive games that got everyone working together as a unit and made the day even more enjoyable.
One of the most talked about games that parents, children and TJJD youth enjoyed was bingo, which allowed them to win numerous prizes, such as tote bags, makeup bags, picture frames and throw blankets among other items.
Several families indicated that they had not seen their son in person for quite some time and expressed how happy and grateful they were to be given this special time with them.
Many of the family’s children visiting went home with several prizes each.
“Games have an important part to play here,” said Texas Model Mentor Martha Garcia. “During this family day, parents were empowered to provide a nurturing environment with the use of games and other learning activities.” This is one step toward the youth mastering key life skills as they reintegrate back into their respective homes and communities, she said.
Chrystela Garza expressed much appreciation to the Evins Volunteer Council for assisting three families with gasoline gift cards for the long round trip from home to Evins and for funding the gifts and meals for them.
One mother who drove an 8-hour round trip from Victoria, Texas said she was so grateful for the gas gift card because she recently lost her job and couldn’t have made the trip without the extra help. With the help, she also was able to bring the young man’s grandmother to visit as well.
At Family Day, volunteers from the Catholic Dioceses of Brownsville pitched in to provide activities for youth who had no family coming to visit and provided the teens with a bag of Takkis and a chocolate candy bar.
“I witnessed so many smiles,” said Evins Superintendent Eduardo Garza, reflecting on the day.
“The youth felt important and loved by their loved ones and staff,” Supt. Garza said. “The youth were able to see their loved ones and have a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings in person. The youth and families left the event with a better connection.”