Celebrate the Month of Hope with Texas Nonprofit, Women’s Storybook Project

by Gracie Watt on April 20, 2021 in Lifestyle, Family, Living Texas, Nonprofit,

Children of the incarcerated are often the forgotten victims of crime. Women’s Storybook Project works to help these children reconnect with their mothers through the joy of literature. 

Women’s Storybook Project of Texas(WSP), is run by a dedicated team including Executive Director Jill Gonzalez. They have been in operation since 2003. 

This April, which is designated as the month of hope, Gonzalez and her team at WSP are hosting a virtual luncheon on April 29th to help inform the public of the organization’s mission and how people can help out. (April also happens to be volunteer month!) The theme is #DoubleTheDream.

The Women’s Storybook Project works in 12 women’s Texas prisons and sends packages to over 100 Texas counties and across 35 states in order to make their mission of connection come to life. Photo Buff Strickland

At the virtual event this year, a formerly-incarcerated mother who is an alumna of the program will be speaking, along with volunteer Christina Soontornvat, an author who recently won two Newbery Honors for her work. KUT Radio’s Joy Diaz will also join as emcee again. 

The Joy of Connection

This connection-driven nonprofit began when founder Judith Dullnig and other volunteers from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church began visiting a prison and working with about a dozen mothers. Women from other churches and synagogues soon joined them and WSP grew. Now, if incarcerated mothers accomplish 90 days of good behavior, Women’s Storybook Project gives the gift of connection by allowing them to record a story for their child and have it sent to their child. 

A Mother’s Voice By Mail

Although the pandemic has shifted the way that WSP functions for the safety of volunteers and inmates, the team is still working to connect families, especially through these tough times. The WSP by Mail program works on a four-month cycle, mirroring the in-person program. The team also decided that even after face-to-face work returns, WSP by Mail will stay in place, giving mothers and children double the opportunity to connect. 

Once a month, for four months, mothers meet with volunteers from Women’s Storybook Project to choose and record a book for each of their children between the ages of 0 and 14. Photo Buff Strickland

“Although we would certainly rather be doing our work in person, we received an amazing response to our letter writing program right from the start,” says Gonzalez. “Our moms were thrilled to have the chance to keep in touch with their children, especially within the context of the pandemic.” After the first two rounds of mailings, WSP reached out to all their alumni mothers, offering them the chance to connect by mail. 

The compassionate director explained that the experience of recording the mothers reading to their children is very emotional. “It is an honor to be a witness to the joy, emotion and, yes, sometimes tears that accompany the reading,” Gonzalez says. 

For those with incarcerated mothers, visiting is often difficult or costly. If these mothers accomplish 90 days of good behavior, Women’s Storybook Project gives the gift of connection by allowing them to record a story for their child. Photo Buff Strickland

The WSP team receives letters from mothers every month reinforcing that connecting families does make a difference. Gonzalez shares a note from a mother that arrived recently:

“Dear Storybook Project People,

         “Thank you so much for continuing to help us out during this time of quarantine, for thinking of us moms with children and helping us stay connected with our children.

         Me, personally I do talk to my 9-year-old daughter on the phone but only like 3x a month or so. The books my daughter has received have been very helpful. Through the Women’s Storybook Project, my daughter can feel some of my love, that she’s not forgotten. She knows that I am still loving her and thinking of her. So, it means a lot to us prison moms. We thank you and greatly appreciate all you’ve done for us. May God bless you all. 

         Sincerely, S.”

How You Can Help

If that letter or WSP’s overall mission tugs at your heart strings and you’d like to learn more, please join WSP for the virtual luncheon at noon on April 29th. If you’re not available at that time, the luncheon will be recorded and available on the WSP YouTube channel after the event.

Recordings provide a chance for children to hear their mother’s voice while they are away. Connecting the children and mothers through WSP helps provide a reason for the mothers to work hard not to return to prison. Photo Buff Strickland

Cover photo Buff Strickland

Gracie Watt is the Editorial Intern at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a junior at St. Edward’s University in Austin, studying Journalism. When she’s not writing, Watt enjoys singing, playing the guitar and doing volunteer work. @gracie.whatt