Meet Ziri: A real-life story of a Project Avary youth


Dear Friends,

Have you ever experienced something that changed the course of your entire life?  So far, I've had two of these experiences: the day my parents became incarcerated and the day I entered Project Avary.

At age five, my whole world flipped upside down.  In what seemed like a split second, both of my parents went to prison and I went into the foster care system.

It was at this time I went into hiding.  I was only five years old, and I already felt so much shame.  I missed my mom and dad so much.  I cried endlessly for them, yet I couldn't tell anyone what I was going through because I knew they would judge me.  I felt so alone.

Then, something magical happened: I was introduced to Project Avary.  For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by other kids who had a similar experience as me.  For the first time ever, I had adults within the community telling me that I could become something.  I had a family again, and I no longer felt alone. 

Project Avary taught me that my struggles and pain can become some of my greatest gifts.My pain has become love and my struggles have become strength.  I can now say with sincere confidence that the cycle of incarceration ends with me! 

When I think about my future, I'm so excited.  I go to college next year, and it is my dream to become a social worker and to work for Project Avary.  I want to give back the incredible gift I was given.  I want to help kids with parents in prison know that they are not alone and that they too can break the cycle.

Through your support of Project Avary, you've given me direction, confidence, and a family.  Without your support, I wouldn't be where I am today.  Thank you so much!

During this holiday season, please continue your incredible support of kids like me by donating to Project Avary.  By doing so, you're giving a voice to the forgotten and are building the next generation of change-makers.  You're helping children break a cycle they've been told they'll never break.  You're giving them the greatest gift they will ever receive. 

With Gratitude & Avary Love,

Ziri M.
Age 17, Project Avary Teen Leader & Junior Counselor

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Meet DJ: A real-life story of an Avary Youth

Dear Friends, 

What does hope mean to you?  For a long time, hope was the only thing I had…


As a young child, I didn’t have a stable life.  I didn’t have supportive adults to care for me or friends to play with.  I didn’t feel like I belonged.  Anywhere. 

Growing up with a parent in prison was incredibly hard on me.  I went into the foster care system at a young age, and by the time I was 10 (the age I met my forever family), I had already lived in seven foster homes and been to nine different schools.  I couldn’t read.  I wouldn’t shower.  I cried myself to sleep every night.  I was angry, but still, I had hope.

I remember my first summer at Project Avary.  Riding on the school bus to camp is a vivid and wonderful memory of mine.  I made friends instantly, and we spent the whole ride smiling and laughing so hard.  Suddenly I knew that I belonged, and that I was no longer alone.  I still had hope, and I could tell the people around me did, too. 

Summer camp ended, and I couldn’t wait to go back.  It’s as if new life surged through me! Project Avary gave me so many experiences I would have never had.  Kids in my situation don’t often get to go canoeing, surfing, skiing, or kayaking, and they certainly don’t get to go to summer camp.  I felt so lucky, and my hope for the future grew even stronger. 

Last year was a big year for me: I celebrated one year as an official child of my adoptive  parents, and I became a Junior Counselor at Camp Avary!  


I can honestly say that growing up in Project Avary has made me the leader I am today.  At the fire circles, the Avary leaders shared their grief and challenges, and they showed me what it means to be vulnerable.  Avary provided me with amazing role models, and because of that, I am becoming a role model for the next generation.  Now, I am able to hope for someone other than myself. 

I feel extremely grateful to have ended up with so many supportive adults in my life—my adoptive family, kind teachers, and my family at Project Avary.  I am also grateful for YOU, people who don’t personally know me, but believe in my future. Your support has made Project Avary’s influence in my life possible.  Now I don’t just hope, but I believe, too. 

Camp is approaching, and the Project Avary youth need your support.  Please make your donation today so we can teach the next generation of Avary youth to hope and believe together.  I’m in.  Are you?

With Gratitude & Avary Love,

Dajon “DJ” Terrell, Avary Junior Counselor, Age 17

Meet Allison: A real-life story of an Avary youth

Dear Project Avary Supporter,

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Do you ever feel like you have no one to talk to? Like you’re so alone in the world and you have nowhere to turn? Growing up with my father in prison, I spent most of my childhood feeling this way.

I was two when my dad got locked up. I don’t remember much about back then, but I do remember the loss being so big. I remember driving hours every weekend just to see him for 30 minutes. I remember being turned away because I was wearing the wrong clothes. I remember not being able to hug him. I remember dinners without him. I remember feeling scared.

I didn’t talk about it much, because most people judged me for my father’s actions. Teachers, friends, and strangers all told me I would wind up in prison just like my dad. It’s as if they determined my fate without even knowing me. They didn’t show me love or tell me I was going to be OK. How’s a kid supposed to be OK if no one tells them they will be?

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Then I went to Camp Avary. It’s as if I walked into a magical place where everyone finally understood what I was going through. We sang songs, we ate good food, and at the fire circles we shared our stories about having a parent in prison. I’d never felt so loved or accepted. Project Avary was the family I never had.
I remember looking up to my counselors so much. My junior counselors and many of the counselors had been through similar things as me. Hearing their stories made me feel like I was no longer alone, and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. I wanted to be a counselor, and it gave me hope knowing that one day I could be.

These days, I feel so accomplished. As a kid, I was always told that I would get into trouble, but Project Avary helped me carve a new path. Now, as a Junior Counselor, I get to watch new, unsure kids step off the bus, and I get to share my story with them. It feels so good to give back.
Your support means everything to us, and we can feel it. Each dollar you give is a gift telling us that you believe in us and that we can make it. Please make your donation today to help make the next generation of Avary Youths' futures as bright as mine.
With Avary Love,
Allison Hale
Age 18, Junior Counselor

P.S. I've written a poem just for you, so you always have a reminder of how much you mean to me and my Avary Family.

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by Allison Hale

Just a shy seven year old girl going to a camp that Grandma claims will
help me with the absence of my father.

Arriving after what seemed like hours of driving, finally stepping off the
bus and automatically feeling that Avary Love.

Years went by full of fun and love at Camp Avary. Now it is my time to
shine, my time to give back.

Now a Junior Counselor letting the young campers know they are not alone. That there are people who care about them. That we want to see them strive—even if other people are telling them they're gonna end up just like their parents behind bars.

I am so blessed to be a part of this amazing program, and I definitely would not be the person I am today without Project Avary.

And Project Avary would not be the same without each and every one of
you, so I thank you for supporting Project Avary to help kids like me. 

Meet Lizett: A real-life story of an Avary youth

When I was younger, when my dad became incarcerated and I was taken from my mom at age 8, I had to live in a foster home for a couple of years. I used to think I wasn't lovable, that I wasn't wanted or cared for, like I wasn't someone's child. I thought so much negative stuff about myself. Teachers called me a troubled kid. They put me in the back of the class.

No one really understood what I was going through. On family nights and for school events, other peoples' parents were there, but I didn't have anybody. A lot of people said I was going to wind up incarcerated like my dad and my uncles and my aunties. They told me I would be next.

The first time I went to the camp at Avary, it was something totally new for me - going to a place where I actually fit in, where people actually understood what I was going through.

Just knowing there were caring people there, and feeling understood, made me feel better. It's hard having a loved one incarcerated - I was my daddy's little girl, so when he got locked up, everything changed.

I was really quiet and scared when I first got to Avary, but one of the counselors made me laugh, made me feel welcome, and took me under her wing. Since then, I've always been laughing there! It took me about 3 years to actually be able to accept the fact that Avary people truly care for me and will always be there for me in my life. Once I did, I was the happiest person! Now, after 7 years of summer camps, monthly Adventure Days, and leadership retreats, I'm going to be a Cabin Intern this summer!

I am so looking forward to getting the kids to laugh and getting them excited for each day. My biggest goal is having them feel that we're here for them, that they don't have to be shy, nervous, or scared. Knowing that they have a second family and that they matter.

Avary has shown me how to choose a good path in life. I now feel like I'm a really good person, and I don't doubt myself as much. I'm working hard on my future career, taking higher classes, writing my resume, and going for may first part-time job. I'm continuing with my life and doing good, making my mom proud, my dad proud, and Camp Avary proud. Avary has had a huge impact on me.

So helping out Avary with your support means that you're helping kids like me, day by day, change their lives, pursue a good path, and become better people. Please make your contribution today - camp will be here soon!

Lizett Elias



We leave for camp in less than ONE MONTH. This year we have 25 brand new 8-10 year old participants that will step off the bus at Camp Avary for the very first time.  From here, we will be with them until they are 18 years old and beyond. Stay on this journey with us. Help us put these kids on a truer path. Watch them grow into strong, resilient, and thriving young adults like Lizett, and help us make this year's camp the best one yet.


Thank you!

Who Will Hug Me While Mom's In Prison?

This Mother's Day, as we celebrate the importance of motherhood, we ask you to remember the mothers we've lost to incarceration and the children at home who feel their loss every day.


"If she isn't here to love me, who will?" -Joseph

If she isn’t here to love me, who will?” Joseph Gladney, 18, asked himself this question for the first time at age 4, when his mother was thrown into the back of a police car and hauled off to jail. Joseph’s mother wrestled with drug addiction, and it was one of many times throughout Joseph’s childhood he would witness his mother’s arrest. “It was hard to watch, but it was even harder to live without her. We didn’t know where we would be living, and I often blocked most of my memories just to cope with the pain.”

Joseph is one of over 5 million kids who have lost a parent to incarceration, and one of many who have lost their primary caregiver, their mother, to the cycle of mass imprisonment.  In fact, women make up the the fastest growing prison population, with the number of female prisoners more than doubling in the 1990s, then soaring from 12,000 to over 90,000 in 20 years. Over 60% of those women are mothers.

There is a true human cost to this trend, one that is far greater than those directly impacted by incarceration: neighborhoods and communities are ripped apart, schools are over-policed, and lasting financial burdens are carried by those left to pick up the pieces.  The greatest disruption, however, is to the family circle. When a parent, particularly a mother, gets caught up in the cycle of incarceration, their children suffer immense loss: loss of stability, protection, and motherly attachment, which is essential to healthy development. Our attachment to our parental figures, especially our attachment to our mothers, is a vital force in our ability to learn, grow, and cultivate thriving relationships. “I just wanted her all the time,” Elexia P., 15, said. Elexia also lost her mother to incarceration at a young age. “I would find myself waiting for her to come home, and after she didn’t, I lost hope. I didn’t trust anyone.”

Children face formidable challenges when they lose a parent to incarceration, and, despite children of incarcerated parents being one of the most at-risk youth populations, they are often overlooked. “We want to be treated with support, not neglect,” Joseph went on. “Even if we have a relationship with our parent, they can’t physically be here to help us. We need the support of our community: Hug me. Motivate me. Tell me I’m going to be OK, and just maybe I will be.  Elexia and Joseph have both faced immeasurable hardship as a result of their mothers’ imprisonment, but they have grown to become thriving young adults, thanks to the intervention Project Avary.  “We work to help children impacted by parental incarceration to heal from the trauma,” Project Avary Executive Director, Zach Whelan, said. “There is a lot of shame, stigma, and isolation that comes with having a parent in prison, and often these children are carrying out an invisible sentence alongside their parents. We help them heal and support them in fostering connections, so they can become healthy and happy young adults and not fall into the same cycles of harm as their parents.”  Project Avary is committed to ending cycles of incarceration and provides a 10-year commitment of year-round service to each child in the program

“I’m so grateful for Project Avary as they have been there for me when my mom couldn’t be. But love climbs walls and even when my mom is not around, I can still feel her there. I love her,” Joseph spoke of his mother. “I believe it’s important we celebrate our mothers, and all the people that serve as mother figures in our lives, that we say thank you to all those that have let us know that we're loved, we're worthy, and that we matter.”

Join us this month in a continued celebration of mothers: those near, far, here, and gone.


Join us as we bring back family camp, an important and invaluable opportunity to give our youth and their caregivers the chance to build healthy relationships and attachments.


Join us as we continue to grow strong, resilient, and thriving young adults.


It takes a village, but together, we can break the cycle!

Will you join us?