Incarceration can be a serious life set-back. But the women of Westover Hills Presbyterian Church are serving the incarcerated to make sure that any set-backs are not permanent. Since January 2016, Westover Hills Presbyterian Church women have offered literacy classes at the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility (PCRDF). Class topics have included poetry by Maya Angelou and Tupac Shakur, grammar, punctuation, homonyms, sentence structure, and weekly vocabulary lessons. One student, Kevin, described the literacy classes as “a thought-provoking, mind-changing hour of empowerment.” More than 450 students have taken the literacy classes at PCRDF.
In 2017, Westover joined with Magdalene Coming Home and Hope Rises to offer re-entry classes for women at Hawkins prison in Wrightsville. The re-entry classes help women transition from prison back to society and community. The classes they teach at Hawkins prison include: financial literacy, self-esteem, anger management, parenting, and resume writing.
On Tuesday afternoons, Westover volunteers also teach an art class for up to two dozen youth at Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center. In the classes, youth are exposed to watercolors, modelling clay, collages, diffusion art, and the ever-popular “food art” (decorating cupcakes and cookies for the holidays). The most popular class, hands-down, was decorating (and eating!) candy houses during the December holiday season. Juvenile Detention Center volunteer Robin Tutt says that “the art program allows the kids to use their imaginations; to look at what life can be rather than what their lives are today.”
Kathy Rateliff, who coordinates the volunteers across all three programs, says “This is the last thing I ever thought I would be doing. I came to this when I learned from Susan McDougal how many women in jail are illiterate. Our Presbyterian women have been trained and have put our resources behind this program. Everyone is committed to it and we enjoy it! We were all a little nervous when we started this, but it is so rewarding and they are so appreciative.”
Rev. Frank LeBlanc, the Pastor at Westover Hills Presbyterian Church says of the program, “Jesus blessed those who visited with and brought care and comfort to the imprisoned. Through the Literacy and Arts programs at Westover Hills, our members have been able to put their faith in action, and to stretch their comfort zones, all to the benefit of our detained brothers and sisters.”
Westover’s programs are underwritten by grants from Westover’s Presbyterian Women, Arkansas Presbytery, the Bob Barker Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, Literacy Action of Central Arkansas, and other donors. If you would like more information about the outreach ministries, please contact Kathy Rateliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made to the literacy/art program by mailing a check to Westover Hills Presbyterian Church Literacy Team, 6400 Richard Hardie Dr. Little Rock, AR 72207. Donations can also be made through an Amazon.com Wishlist by searching Westover Hills Presbyterian Women Literacy & Art Program for the Incarcerated.