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Books for the children of inmates goal of new ministry

sheriff books

Isabelle’s Book Club at the Jail (l-r)– Major June Blackwell, Lt. Heather Wofford and Major Mitch Yeargin from the sheriff’s office with Judy Wyndham, Kathy Ciomek, Kayla Hollifield and Stacy Strongman from the book group.

It’s odd to see a table of brightly colored children’s books sitting the lobby of the county jail, but a new ministry here believes their presence can make an important difference in the lives of children who have parents incarcerated.

The table is manned by volunteers from The Episcopal Church of the Holy Family, who are part of Isabelle’s Book Club, a ministry providing free and popular children’s titles to any youth (the books ranged from those for the youngest readers up to Harry Potter titles). The books are donated by Barnes and Noble for the program.

Pickens is the fourth county where Isabelle’s Book Club has a presence in the county jail, after being founded about five years ago by north Georgia freelance writer Denise Ray.

As the volunteers there Monday said, there is no catch, just free books children can leave with. 

The initial plans is to have their table in the lobby of the Pickens jail on Camp Road manned Monday mornings and evenings (8:30 - 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.). This time corresponds with regular visiting hours at the jail.

Ray said she was inspired to start this ministry while doing research for a master’s degree in criminal justice. There were numerous programs to help prisoners and some to help spouses of prisoners, but none to address the needs of the children. “The kids needed an advocate,” she said.

“In Georgia 1 in 28 children has a parent in jail or prison. That is average of one child in every classroom,” Ray said. Numerous studies show that kids who don’t develop reading skills by third grade will fall behind and become much more likely to drop out of schools and that leads to a greater chance they fall into a life that leads to them being incarcerated as well.

“I always tell the sheriffs I meet with, ‘I hope I put you out of business’ ” she said.

After hearing about the program, Holy Family Church, on Cove Road here, took the lead in providing the volunteers for the weekly trips to the jail.

“We are here to get books into children’s hands,” said volunteer Stacy Strongman. “A book can open doors and opportunities forever.”

To support the ministry,