Having a parent in prison can be lonely and ostracizing. Many children try to hide it.
This week’s Harris’ Hero is scholarCHIPS, an organization devoted to building a community of emotional support for the children of incarcerated parents and providing scholarships for them to attend college.
“When I was growing up,my father was in and out of jail and federal prisons,” the organization’s founder, Yasmine Arrington, said.
She started the organization after she realized there weren’t any scholarship programs specifically for the children of imprisoned parents when she was preparing to go to college.
More than 2 million children across the country have an incarcerated parent, according to scholarCHIPS. To date, the organization has awarded more than $180,000 in scholarships to 61 D.C.-area students. They also provide mentors, life-skills conferences and group activities.
ScholarCHIPS scholars hope to use their education to break the cycle of incarceration in their neighborhoods.
“If you don’t teach the children about what else is out there in the world they kind of all do the same thing,” said Amari McDuffie, who is studying biology, human development and sociology at Pennsylvania State University. “I feel like my father kind of lacked that knowledge.”
McDuffie grew up being forced to drive three hours to visit her father, who could not attend her high school graduation, prom or first day of college — experiences she described as being very traumatic.
The children of incarcerated parents often face feelings of inadequacy and loneliness when they enter college.
“This program has told me that’s not my mistake and that’s not my fault and I’m not less qualified because my dad is incarcerated,” McDuffie said.