3 images look like Polaroids pinned to an album. Cardboard boxes shaped like houses on a dolly with the caption, On the way. Then a closeup of a stuffed bear wearing a t-shirt with caption, Ready to love. And finally, a photo from the back of a little boy sitting on a front porch hugging a similar stuffed bear, captioned, Home at last.

A word that describes our Family Services Advocate (FSA) program, which supports children of incarcerated parents, is reassuring. In addition to the activities of our advocates—matching families with resources, teaching parenting classes, meeting with the incarcerated parents—Karlee Shambaugh and Sarah Sechrist provide validation and encouragement to both children and adults.

In Lancaster and Lebanon Counties, one way our advocates reassure is through the gift of stuffed bears with personalized voice recordings. Each child receives a bear embedded with a message from their parent in prison. Having their parent’s voice available at the push of a button helps to maintain their important connection.

Karlee, our Lancaster FSA, has delivered bears to 76 children over the past four months, including one to a 10-month-old. As soon as the little one heard Dad’s voice she lit up with joy. When Karlee visited Dad at Lancaster County Prison afterward, he showed her a picture of his daughter with her bear, which she carries everywhere.

We’re grateful to Ambassadors for Hope in Lancaster County, and to the United Way of Lebanon County for providing the funding for our bear project. Offering reassurance to our most vulnerable children boosts their well-being and lowers their risk for mental health and substance use issues in the future.