The children of parents who are incarcerated are serving the same sentence on the outside. The invisible bars" of poverty, homelessness and foster care are among the many obstacles that these young people face. Currently, 2.7 million kids have a parent in prison, jail or on parole. Nine percent of these kids live in California. Project Avary is a Marin County non-profit dedicated to improving life outcomes among children with parents in prison.
Project Avary provides long-term guidance, training and support from preadolescence to young adulthood. Although several organizations nationwide have programs that include services for these kids, Avary is one of the only organizations dedicated solely and exclusively to this population. "As a consequence," says Arthur Wachtel, who chairs the peer review committee of Alternate Defenders Incorporated and sits on the Avary Board, "although it is a small organization, Project Avary has been able to attract Miss America (child with an incarcerated father) and Attorney General Kamala Harris to speak at its fundraisers. This year's annual fundraising event featured Piper Kerman, author of Orange in the New Black.
Project Avary is also unique in that it makes a ten-year commitment to each child. By beginning to work with these children and their caregivers during elementary school, behaviors are addressed when the trauma of parents' incarceration is fresh.
Avary's childrens program provides an introduction to a diversity of experience, teaches social and life skills, and offers a residential summer learning camp in a natural setting for self-discovery and reflection. Children are referred by teachers, social worker and probation departments. This is followed by a teen leadership program which offers outdoor and wilderness outings, as well as life skills training, and opportunities for leadership to guide and counsel younger children.