Join our next Volunteer Training: May 1-2!

Families that serve together grow together!

 

Highlighting our volunteers who have invited their family members to join them in loving service with The Freedom to Choose Project (FTC).

Angela Bell was our very 1st FTC Volunteer back in 2004, and continues to support FTC in so many ways. Angela has invited her daughter, Amanda, and her granddaughter, Mayah, into our FTC family. Here is what they have to share about their experience volunteering together…

 

Angela Bell (the very first FTC volunteer!)

Approximately how many FTC workshops have you participated in?
43 workshops over 17 years.

How did you first hear about The Freedom to Choose Project and what prompted you to become involved?
Bonnie and David were in a meeting I was at, and announced they were going to do a workshop in prison and wanted volunteers. I had an inner calling loud and clear. I continue to have that inner calling. I am now 90 Years old.

What was your first volunteer experience like? What did you take away from that experience?
It was an amazingly uplifting experience filled with God’s Light. I moved into deeper loving of myself and everyone in the trios I sat in. I become aware that I too am in prison, an inner prison that functions in the form of past hurts, using what happens to me against myself. I became aware, in the presence of deep unconditional love, past traumas can heal. This awareness has great value for me and the men and women in the prisons I have gone to. We are a human family and I have many surrogate sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons in the prison (some now out).

How has this experience volunteering together affected your relationships with the family members you serve with?
To me, it is so wonderful to share a service that I love with the family that I love. The experience brought us closer to understanding our core family value of loving unconditional
service. Certainly, an appreciation of each other, in the different ways we serve. My Daughter and Granddaughter (who is in college) traveled from Atlanta, Georgia to participate with me.

 

Amanda Bell-Kirson (Angela’s daughter)

How many FTC workshops have you participated in?
Two workshops

How did you first hear about The Freedom to Choose Project and what prompted you to become involved?
I first heard about FTC through my mother, Angela Bell and she has been participating with FTC for many years now. I found the approach of FTC working with the incarcerated was not only out of the norm and disruptive in approach but incredibly reformative. The work that was being done was so interesting to me as it sounded more rehabilitative instead of punitive, a program that had the potential of reforming our prison system and humanizing those in prison. FTC sounded like a one-of-a kind type of program that after hearing what my mother experienced over the years and sharing how transformative it was for both the attendees and the volunteers it truly piqued my interest. Being able to serve with my mother was an absolute bonus and then on the second FTC prison project, I was able to participate with both my mother and my daughter! Double bonus!!

What was your first volunteer experience like? What did you take away from that experience?
My first FTC Project experience was mind-blowing, eye-opening and life-changing. I had participated in different self-awareness-type trainings and trio/duo-formatted programs in the past, but the work with FTC was unique. I experienced a level of depth and awareness from the participants and volunteers that was beyond words. To observe empathy for the first time being expressed by someone who had been through such extreme hardship on so many levels was life changing for me. My empathy only grew stronger and stronger in listening and sharing with each participant. I felt that I took away a realization that those who are in this program mostly function on a much deeper and more enlightened way than many on the outside of prison. I also realized how very human and relatable each and every person was and who had tremendous contributions. I so wanted to share my experience with the masses.

How has this experience volunteering together affected your relationships with the family members you serve with?
I feel that sharing this volunteer experience with my mother and daughter was so very important on different levels. It instilled a deeper sense of prioritizing service in such a meaningful way that I do believe my mother instilled in me and I in my daughter. Also, my mother is so very passionate about the work of FTC, that for my daughter and I to share in her passion was so very beautiful. My mother is 90 years old and such an inspiration to all who know her, it meant so much to the three of us to partake in a deeper, life altering way.

 

 

 

Mayah Kirson (Angela’s granddaughter)

Approximately how many FTC workshops have you participated in?
1 workshop

How did you first hear about The Freedom to Choose Project and what prompted you to become involved?
My grandmother, Angela Bell, has been participating in FTC workshops for over a decade. After my mom attended her first workshop, my grandmother asked if I would like to participate one day. The thought was a bit daunting sitting down in a men’s prison to talk with individuals labeled felons by society, but I was fascinated. I signed up and flew to California from Georgia to attend alongside my mom and grandma.

What was your first volunteer experience like? What did you take away from that experience?
I didn’t know what to expect aside from the quintessential prison environment, but I followed my sweet little grandma through security and eventually found myself sitting down in a room full of prison participants. Make no mistake there were guards at every door and strict rules, but otherwise it felt a bit like a luncheon or some sort of convention. It quickly became obvious my grandmother was a bit of a celebrity in prison and I estimate she’s accrued more than a few dozen surrogate grandsons over the many years she has worked with FTC. “Oh, you’re Angela’s granddaughter!” a friendly man in a prison jumpsuit said to me. “Want to join my trio?” he asked. Trios were the most difficult and rewarding part of the workshop where participants sit down with one or two incarcerated individuals and each person discusses something they want to process. It seemed unfathomable these understandably hardened individuals would be willing to share their vulnerabilities with a stranger and even their fellow incarcerated, yet the men I listened to shared profound and distinct experiences. I felt the painful moments along with them, some describing the regret they felt for their crimes, trauma from life before incarceration, and a mix of uncertainty and hope about their futures. They cracked jokes and asked me about my hobbies like friends do. I was taken aback at how invested I was in their wellbeing by the end of the weekend. I left knowing every one of those men deserved a chance at rehabilitation and, had their path not deviated in a such a way, we might have even been friends or co-workers on the outside.

How has this experience volunteering together affected your relationships with the family members you serve with?
Three generations of women in my family do service together, one of these service events being with The Freedom to Choose Project. My grandmother, mother, and I attended a workshop together more than a year ago. By serving as a family, my admiration and respect for the women in my family grew. My grandmother treats the incarcerated population she works with not as projects, but as grandchildren and dear friends. I could see how impactful her small actions were as she reminded these individuals they are loved, worthy, and talented regardless of the choices they made. My mother is a natural social-butterfly and her ability to meaningfully connect with participants, not as inmates but as people, is something I strive for. While I am not always as warm and fuzzy as my family members, they could see I offered positive qualities in this process too. My intent listening and thoughtful questions were well-received, and at the end of the day I could appreciate the difference in my personality and approach while admiring the work of my mother and grandmother. We could all see that we had different strengths, but our hearts were all in the same place. It was a volunteer opportunity like no other, and I am glad I shared it with the women in my family I respect.

 

 

 

Donna Kall (FTC volunteer since 2004)