‘Hour Children’ Helps Formerly Incarcerated Moms and Their Families During Pandemic

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Currents News Staff

As COVID cases rise, more and more schools are switching to remote learning. It isn’t easy, especially for working parents. But for some single moms who are just out of jail, it would be impossible, if not for the help from the Queens non-profit organization Hour Children.

Because of what the organization does, Hour Children staff say the women who receive support from their programs are five times less likely to return to prison.

“Oh my goodness, in so many ways, I don’t know where to start,” says Natalie Thomas, a single mom. “They’re just like a blessing.”

Natalie hasn’t had an easy life. The single mother battled an addiction to cocaine and spent time in jail. Now she spends her time here at the Hour Working Women Re-entry Program doing job training while her children, including four-year-old Gabby, does the Hour Children’s School Fun Program remotely.

Lisa Belfast is a teacher who runs the program.

“It’s an excellent thing for the moms,” says Lisa, “because we are here from eight to six, and from eight to six they get everything. They get academics and after school, we go outside.”

The non-profit helps incarcerated, and formerly incarcerated women, and their children. It provides housing, job training and job placement, and now – due to the pandemic – it provides help with remote learning.

“The mothers were worried that their children were really going to be losing out,” says Sister Tesa Fitzgerald.

Sister Tesa is the Executive Director of Hour Children. As an educator, she knows all about the studies like the one published in the Journal of School Health, which shows children of incarcerated parents are more likely to fall behind academically, drop out of school, and even go to prison themselves.

“It’s important from the beginning,” says Sister Tesa. “It’s our commitment to educate. I know firsthand how important, how crucial it is, for the kids to get a jumpstart and really get a good solid base of education.”

The women they help can’t work from home to help their kids. Natalie says she doesn’t know what she would have done without this program.

“They have everything set up,” she says. “They have the wifi. The kids bring their devices and they have people who sit with the certain grades one-on-one so that they can really focus on their classwork online. It’s really amazing.”

Natalie and her three kids live here in one of the non-profit’s sections called My Mother’s House. When she starts working, she says she hopes to get her own apartment, maybe in one of Hour Children’s apartment buildings.

She could even get a job at one of their thrift shops or in the food pantry. But Natalie’s goal is to get her college degree and become a drug counselor. Thanks to Hour Children’s support, she knows that goal, and a better life for herself and her kids, is within reach.

“Hour Children is the best support system that you can get,” Natalie says. “They fight for you to the end and it’s just amazing what they do.”