This is better than Christmas…

So for those of you who may  have been unaware, Get On The Bus successfully launched its 11th event yesterday at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) both in Chowchilla, CA and California Institute for Women (CIW) in Corona, CA.  With the help of thousands of volunteers, faith communities, companies, nonprofits and universities, we took around 700 children to visit their mothers for a special Mother’s Day visit!

We had a couple of bumps in the road (no pun intended) which had to do with the incompetencies of the newly awarded state contracted bus company Silverado Stages and their failure to deliver buses, (Bus C stood in the parking lot in Inglewood for 3.5 hours in the dark and the cold and some families left.  All members of the company, who claimed that they would have someone available all night for dispatch and gave out the head person’s cell number, didn’t even respond until 5 am and when they did their comment was, “I’m sorry this happens in the transportation industry.  I’ve called the driver and he is not picking up, you can’t expect anymore from me and I don’t know what else to do.” For those of you who know me, you can imagine the suggestions that I gave him after he told me that.  If you are outraged as well, write your local Congressman and the Department of Corrections in Sacramento about this.)

However, the rest of the event was absolutely flawless.  The volunteers couldn’t have been better.  The visiting staffs at both of the prisons let everyone in and made all the kids feel welcome!  Everyone got plenty to eat and they all got their photos.  The children and the moms had such a lovely day.  There were smiles abounding.

I got to spend my morning with the moms at VSPW.  Being in the room with a bunch of moms who haven’t seen their kids in a long time is not for the faint of heart.  There were emotions surrounding and everyone had questions, which I was happy to be there to assist with, and everyone had stories.  Many times, I end up getting the stories second hand because I am so busy; however, yesterday was different.

I received a call from Chaplain Sandy at VSPW on Wednesday of this past week about Angelina (above).  Angelina had signed up for our program, but we had had a hard time contacting her family and therefore, they weren’t scheduled to go.  Angelina got on the phone with me and pleaded.  She told me that she hadn’t seen Aalize, 6, or Jonathan, 8, for 6 years.  At that point, I knew we had to try to do something to help.  We were able with the help of the prison staff to get her family on the bus.  The morning of when I was talking with the women, Angelina came up to me with tearful eyes and said, “Maria, I am Angelina, thank you for helping me. You really went the extra mile.”  My heart sunk.

Next was Lisa.  Lisa’s family was coming on Joe’s Bus D-2.  After Joe met with Lisa’s sister Yolanda (above), he was very moved by her story.  Yolanda and Lisa grew up in a gang invested community and their entire family was always in trouble.  When Yolanda and Lisa started to have children, Yolanda realized that the children had no positive influences in their life.  This led Yolanda to do a 180 and change in order to be a role model for the kids.  Yolanda now takes care of Robert, Lisa’s 7 year old son, who she hasn’t seen since he was born.  On the morning of the bus, Joe called me and said that Robert was sick but Yolanda and her son showed up.  He asked me what to do.  I said if you have space just put them on.  I was so excited that I made this decision because I later learned from Lisa that this was her first visit ever since she was incarcerated 9 years ago.

Lastly, I met Mary, who was also a part of Bus D-2.  Her 17 year old daughter Samantha was coming to visit with two new additions- twin babies, who Mary had never met before.  Mary paced the room waiting for the bus to arrive and I got to meet up with this family in the visiting room.  The entire day Mary parading her new grandchildren around and she just couldn’t stop smiling.

These stories are just a few of what moved me most yesterday about the visit.  On behalf of me and Joe, we would like to say “Thank you” for supporting our Bus D-2.  You made a difference in the lives’ of many children yesterday.  We are also very much in need of your continued support as we have had to add 5 extra buses to match the need for Father’s Day so if you can help, that would be great!!!

Thanks!!!

3 Comments

  1. Melissa

    Maria – I love your blog! I especially loved the story that included the quote "In life it is not the image we put out to the world, but what bleeds through that makes us who we are." It reminded me of something I once saw in an interview with Leonard Cohen. He is a songwriter and perhaps one of his songs you might know is the Hallelujah (it’s in the Shrek movie!) In another song he wrote a lyric that I once heard him explain as "nothing is perfect, and the cracks are where the light of God shines through." That is one of my favorite thoughts to turn to when things don’t go quite right. I look for the cracks!

    After having a day to decompress and reflect on being the bus coordinator for Bus N2 I have to say that once again I am feeling so blessed to be a part of this program. I more quickly than usual got over what my friend Dan fondly refers to as the "let’s Get The H#$% Off The Bus" phase this year. That might sound a little cynical, but please remember that San Diego buses have an approximately 20 hour trip (done on 4 hours of sleep the night before), and that this phase only lasts for the last hour or so of the return trip 😉

    I loved getting the conference call with the moms from VSP this year. I wish I had thought to have all the kids shout “HI MOM.” I thought about that as soon as I hung up. Maybe next year J A quick story that centered me this year – I was listening to a volunteer help a kid with the kid's evaluation on the way home, and was – for the 10th time that day – moved to tears by his story and his gratitude. He expressed that he was nervous on the way up, LOVED the visit, but was so sad on the way home. He said that he thinks all the time about the day his mom will come through the front door and say "HI! I'm home." He knows that is not happening for a long time, and it makes him very sad. He has recently had to move from his maternal grandmother’s house to his paternal grandmother’s house. His little brother has “issues” and she can no longer deal with him, his little brother and his big sister. He told grandma it was ok, he could move to the other grandma’s house so it would be easier for her. His dad is not in the picture in any way, shape or form, and neither he nor that grandmother see him. He told the volunteer “At least I know we will always get to see my mom at least once a year because of Get On The Bus. And now, I’ll at least get to see my brother and sister once a year too.” He is 11 years old. This family was my family as a family contact 5 years ago, so I have a relationship with this great little guy. His life has an awful lot of cracks in it at the moment, but I could see that light shining through! Thank you Maria, for all the hard work you and your staff does. You are making such a difference in the lives of so many vulnerable little souls. And we are all blessed to have the opportunity to work with this program.

    Reply
  2. Maria Costanzo Palmer

    Missy, you an amazing volunteer, we are blessed to have you!!

    Reply
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