FREDERICK — As the name implies, Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership focuses on helping children. But Rachel Noor, a mother of four, credits the organization with helping her get sober.
A conviction for driving under the influence sent Noor to the Frederick County Adult Detention Center for two months in 2017, separating her from her children — two of whom were minors.
It was her second DUI conviction in two years. Alcohol was a problem.
It was behind bars that Noor met Shari Scher, a woman whose organization changed Noor's life.
Scher founded Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, a volunteer-run nonprofit that aims to help children up to 18 years old. She worked in the Frederick County Public Schools system and she realized that children whose parents were incarcerated were struggling. She wanted to help.
Scher knew what it was like to grow up with an incarcerated parent. Her father, a man she loved, was incarcerated when she was a teenager. With her own experience in the back of her mind, she asked the superintendent to start a program to help students with incarcerated parents.
Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (COIPP) was born. It became an official nonprofit in 2011.
COIPP is one of the 32 nonprofits that are part of the 2019 Unity Campaign run by the United Way of Frederick County. The campaign began in 2014 to "fill the gaps" in nonprofit funding, building on previous campaigns such as Frederick 48 and The Frederick News-Post's Season of Hope, according to the United Way's website. Until 2017, it was hosted through The Community Foundation of Frederick County. The News-Post is an in-kind sponsor of the campaign.
To better understand just what COIPP does, Scher said to imagine a circle. The child sits in the middle. Caregivers, those who take care of the child when a parent is behind bars, make up one side of the circle. The parents, including those incarcerated, are the other.
COIPP addresses all parts of the circle, Scher said.
The nonprofit provides monthly activities for children including bowling or arts and crafts. At the detention center, volunteers with the organization created a book nook so children could look at books while they wait to visit a jailed parent. They can take a book home when they leave.
The nonprofit holds a sharing fair six times a year where members collect items to donate to affected children.
For caregivers and parents, those in jail or released, the nonprofit provides gift cards or bus passes. It also offers parenting classes in the detention center and outside.
Noor took one of the parenting classes while at the detention center, a class that helped her realize how her childhood adverse events (ACEs) affected her life. Taking the class allowed her to examine her life and make changes. With the help of COIPP, she entered sobriety and found a way to be financially stable on her own.
Noor had been a parent for years by the time she took the class. Her oldest child is in her late 20s. But the class helped her connect with her children while she was behind bars.
For parents, sitting behind bars shuts out more than just the outside world. It creates a long-distance relationship with their children, even if the jail is only a few miles from their home.
Visiting can be hard and impersonal, Scher said. Calls cost money. So to help keep a relationship, COIPP gives postcards to the parents who take the class to send to their children. It also helps them prepare to reconnect with their children upon release.
For the children, COIPP purchases stuffed animals that have recordings of their mom's or dad's voices. When the child hugs the animal, the recording plays.
And the organization is looking to expand operations. It has a memorandum of understanding with the school system. And there is a collaboration with the Mental Health Association to run a Families Impacted by Incarceration Program, including a class on parenting from afar.
Items, classes and the other services provided by COIPP are all funded by donations. The Unity Campaign is the nonprofit's biggest fundraiser, she said.
“I always say to people, I have three grandchildren, and I only want the best for them. ... Therefore, these children deserve what my grandchildren get,” Scher said.