Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘lullaby project’

Connecting beyond bars

A mother singing her child to sleep – it’s perhaps one of the most timeless images of motherhood. However, it’s also one of the most out of reach for a mother in prison. This gap between a mother in prison and her child can be wide – both physically and emotionally.

“Even though my kids are older, it’s still very hard. Also my grandbabies – I am missing everything about their lives and growing up,” shares Stacy Lundy, an inmate at Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility in Eagle River, who has three grown children and three grandchildren, ages 5 and under.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project seeks to bridge that gap and bring mothers at Hiland closer to their children – and grandchildren, in Stacy’s case. The Lullaby Project, modeled after a similar project at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, pairs incarcerated women with musician coaches to create beautiful, personal lullabies for their children at home.

“The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project will help to lessen the trauma among the children resulting from the separation from their parent by helping mothers use music to support and convey to their children that they are loved; to create a sense of belonging; to share feelings, express joy, love and a connection to each other – all necessary for a child to develop a sense of security and healthy social/emotional development,” explains Shirley Mae Staten, who spearheaded the project in Alaska. Alaska Children’s Trust supported the effort with a $10,000 grant.

Last year, 16 mothers at Hiland participated in the first year of the project. “We all wrote a letter to our children and then our musician helped turn it into a song with music,” says Stacy, adding that she found writing the letter to be most challenging. “I wanted them to know how sorry I am and how much they all mean to me … It was very emotional.”

The inaugural year of the project culminated with a concert at Hiland, where the mothers and musicians performed the songs to an audience of 250 supporters. At the concert, Stacy presented her lullaby, “You Are My Sunshine,” to her children and grandchildren.

“I felt proud, blessed, guilty and emotional,” says Stacy. “They all loved their song and everyone was emotional.”

The lullabies were compiled into a 16-song CD, which were given to the inmates and their families, as well as available for purchase.

The inspiring project will continue this year with a few additions. Two former inmates who participated in the 2016 project will return as teaching artists, and two children of inmates will work with coaches to compose a responding lullaby to their mothers. A lullaby journal with sheet music for the songs will also be created and given to the inmates and their children, as well as to Anchorage elementary music teachers. And the concert schedule will be expanded to include performances for male inmates, female inmates and a public performance at Hiland.

“I think every mother should be able to participate in this program,” Stacy states. “It helps mothers reconnect with their children.”

Since inception, ACT has awarded more than $5 million in community investment grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect.  In 2016 – 2017, we awarded $301,920 to 29 organizations across the state. See the full list of grant recipients and funded projects at alaskachildrenstrust.org.

Lullaby Project Brings Mothers in Prison Closer to their Children

By Shirley M. Springer Staten

kayla-shirley-copy

Shirley Mae Springer Staten spearheaded the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016. ACT supported the project with a $10,000 grant.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016 paired incarcerated women with Alaska musicians to create beautiful and personal lullabies for their children at home. The effort began in June of 2015, beginning as the mission of a single committed Anchorage woman. Happily, she did not work alone for long.

The result? On September 24, 2016, a packed audience of 250 supporters gathered in the prison gymnasium at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to witness a powerful testament of love and connection. Sixteen mothers and 16 musicians performed lullabies before a heart-warmed public audience. In most cases, the tender lullaby recipients, small children, stood onstage with their moms – proudly or shyly – to hear her sing directly to them. Tears flowed, both on stage and in the audience. This event was healing made visible.

mothers-mg_2654How did the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project happen? It is a genuine story of compassion that sprang from chance circumstances.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten likes to lounge in bed on Saturday mornings, listening to public radio. Listening to “This American Life” on NPR, Staten heard a woman say, “I can do some things for my children, even from prison.” The story was about women prisoners in Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex for 10,000 prisoners – literally on an island in the East River. The radio story told of a project by the Carnegie Hall Music Weill Institute to bring mothers in prison closer to their children, using lullabies to strengthen their bond.

All Staten could think about was women prisoners at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. She knows its women because she has participated in many programs delivering hope and inspiration there since 1986. She wanted this musical opportunity for Hiland’s mothers and their children.

Staten made a cold call to the Carnegie Institute to ask about the project. Manuel Bagorro, program manager for Carnegie, called back a month later. He wanted to know – who was this woman in Alaska proposing to start a Lullaby Project in Alaska? How did she think she could accomplish it? Why was she qualified to lead it? Was she all talk, or could she really pull it off?

Bagorro didn’t wonder for long. He said he could hear the energy and commitment in Staten’s voice. He soon believed she could do it, and invited her to New York City for training. Staten had the opportunity there to witness a Lullaby Project in action.

She watched as women from a homeless shelter joined with local musicians to write lullabies. She remembers the women as amazing, even as they expressed little self-worth. Invited to write lyrics, they would often say, “I don’t know how to write a song!” But at the end of a five-hour workshop, they had indeed successfully composed choruses for their individual lullabies. They danced for joy, Staten said.

Back in Anchorage and on fire to launch a local project, Staten faced big hurdles. Where would the money come from, and how would she earn institutional approval?

The first step was gaining Hiland Mountain Superintendent Gloria Johnson’s support. She and her staff emphasize empowering women and reducing recidivism. This program, aimed at bonding prison mothers with their children, seemed like a good fit. They gave an emphatic green light, and the project was on. Of 25 lullaby projects around the United States, only two – Hiland Mountain and Rikers – happen in prison.

Staten attributes the project’s success to what she calls the “Yes factor.” That’s when armies of supporters say, “Yes!” and step up to help. Together, she and her co-conspirators found a nonprofit to host the project and raise necessary funds. Alaska Children’s Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to support the project.

Her next steps were recruiting musicians, providing training through Carnegie staff and matching musicians with inmate songwriters. The mothers tackled their lyric writing using the “Carnegie Lullaby Workbook.” In it, they sketched their dreams and hopes for their children. Together, mothers and musician “coaches” worked to translate those ideas into the language of song, and musicians wrote the tunes. A “listening party,” where mothers could approve final versions, was an emotional experience. For many of the mothers, this was the first time they were able to hear their own words set to music.

Finally, the project culminated in that September public performance, with each mother receiving a CD copy of her lullaby. It was an afternoon of soulful solidarity as fellow citizens stood with these incarcerated women and shared their love and affection for their beautiful children.

“It made me want to be a mother again,” one Hiland mother said.

 

Champion for Kids Honored at Fundraising Reception

A total of 125 guests attended the Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) fundraising reception hosted by Alaska First Lady Donna Walker and Ms. Toni Mallott at the Governor’s House in Juneau on January 31.

annaOne of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of the 2017 Southeast Champion for Kids Award recipient: Sen. Anna MacKinnon, who was integral in ACT’s transition from a state organization to an independent nonprofit.

In 2008, ACT began this journey in partnership with our sister organization, Friends of Alaska Children’s Trust (FACT). The goal was to transform the organization into an independent nonprofit in order to better serve the state. However, for the first year, this idea faced challenges that prevented the transformation from occurring.

Anna recognized how the transition to an independent nonprofit could strengthen ACT’s mission and allow us to better serve Alaska’s children and families. When the new legislative session began in 2009, Anna introduced two bills that would support ACT’s goal. The bills languished through two legislative sessions.

But Anna never gave up. With her commitment to ACT’s mission and the children of Alaska, the bills passed in 2010. On July 9, 2010, Gov. Sean Parnell signed the bills into law, giving birth to the Alaska Children’s Trust we know today.

Without Anna’s support, perseverance and political savviness, our goal would never have been achieved. 

In addition to her important role in ACT’s history, Anna has an extensive history of being an advocate for our children. Prior to joining the Legislature, Anna was the executive director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR). Under Anna’s leadership, STAR became active in engaging the community through education and general outreach to prevent child sexual abuse.

More recently, Anna helped the Legislature forge a deal to have Erin’s Law passed. In 2014, Rep. Geran Tarr introduced Alaska to Erin’s Law, which would require all public schools in Alaska to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program. The bill unfortunately did not pass in 2014.

The bill was reintroduced in 2015 and was expanded to included teen dating violence (Bree’s Law) and became known as the Safe Children’s Act. The bill faced some hurdles, which could have prevented it from passing again. However, during an extended session, Anna found common ground between the various parties to help ensure its passage – resulting in a stronger safety net for our children.

shirleyFor a year after the Safe Children’s Act was passed, Anna was a member of the committee that presented recommendations to the Department of Education and Early Development.

In addition to thanking the 2017 Southeast Champion for Kids, guests at the Juneau reception also heard from Shirley Mae Spring Staten, who shared about starting the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project – a project supported by ACT. The Lullaby Project, which started in June 2015, pairs incarcerated women with Alaska musicians to create beautiful and personal lullabies for their children at home.hope-quilt

A piece titled “Hope Quilt” from the Unheard Voices|Unheard Wisdom exhibit was also on display at the January 31 reception. The art show focused on domestic violence and child abuse will be in Anchorage in April as part of ACT’s activities for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

Alaska Children’s Trust thanks everyone who joined us at the Juneau event to show support for our mission.

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.