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Volunteers, staff, and donors unite to help families affected by incarceration

Joyce was incarcerated for over a year and was worried about reuniting with her family. She hadn't been sober for years and couldn't see a path towards stability and happiness with her three children.

But in May of 2015 her perspective changed. That month, Joyce moved to Theodora House (Volunteers of America - Indiana's (VOAIN) work-release facility for women) to finish her sentence and became involved with the Look Up and Hope program. Through this program, she began to see a path towards sobriety and being with her children again.

The Look Up and Hope program is for women who still have custody of their children and have a designated caregiver for them. Thanks to the staff, donors, and volunteers who support this program, incarcerated mothers can sustain healthy contact with their children and their caregiver, and the caregiver and the children can be financially stable while the mother is incarcerated.

A key staff member of this program who works a lot with program participants is Ruth Bramlage. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, she acts as a liaison between the mother and the caregiver of the mother's children. Her coordination between the two parties helps everyone gain confidence that healthy relationships can be forged. Bramlage does this through regular individual therapy sessions with the mom, and home visits with the children and caregiver.

Joyce greatly valued individual therapy sessions with Bramlage. She stated, "Individual counseling with Ruth was the best. She helped me learn how to have a relationship with my kids again. She helped identify the problems we have between each other and how they can be solved. She taught us how to talk about how my drug addiction hurt my daughters and how we can healthily deal with it now."

As Bramlage visits with the caregivers in their home, she tries to find and distinguish what the most pertinent physical needs are for the caregiver and children. Most of the families struggle with getting enough food and clothes for the kids.

This is where volunteer groups and donors can step in. For instance, during the holidays, a local church group stepped up and gave food baskets to Joyce's family as well as three other families. Bramlage is always very excited to receive outside help from the community. She was present when the volunteers gave the family a Christmas dinner and presents and observed the family's ecstatic reaction: "The kids kept saying, there's more!? There's more?! The families are really so grateful for just about anything they can get. And we're delighted in knowing that they can receive help. It's really neat to give people the hope that they're not always going to be in the position they're in right now."

Today, Joyce has been drug-free for a year, owns a house, and her two daughters are living with her again and they have a much healthier relationship. However, Joyce's journey is not over. She has overcome the hardest part, but still needs some help getting back on her feet.

If you would like to help a family such as Joyce, contact Sara Pugh at or 317.224.2616 to make an in-kind donation such as food or furniture; or you can make an online donation and write a note that you would like to designate the money to the Look Up and Hope program. Just $5 will provide lunch for one of her daughters. Thanks for your support.