In less than a month, Olivia Butkin will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah. Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that means an act of kindness or a good deed. As her Mitzvah project, Olivia is supporting the Women in Recovery (WIR) program — a successful, cost-effective alternative to incarceration for nonviolent female offenders. WIR embraces the belief that family reunification, despite hardship and substance abuse, is attainable.

When asked “Why WIR?”, the well-spoken and well-informed 7th grader said, “When you learn about the numbers and the data, it’s more than you imagine.” According to the U.S Department of Justice, Oklahoma leads the nation in incarcerated women per capita with more than 2,600 women in prison. Seventy-five percent of the women in prison are serving time for nonviolent offenses, primarily drug-related infractions. Olivia also learned that more than 7,000 Oklahoma children have a mother in prison.

One woman who could have been included in these shocking statistics is Leslie. The mother of two was facing 21 years to life in prison for endeavoring to manufacture meth, but rather than serving time in prison, she was accepted into WIR. She credits the program with bringing her family back together and changing her life. “Without WIR, it would not have been possible for me to get full custody of my children after fighting for them for 17 months. My oldest son excels in math, my youngest son helps me cook and has won awards in school for helping and star behavior. We are a happy, healthy bonded family and my kids will be a success in life.”

Olivia’s project will provide backpacks for the children of mothers who are participating in the program. These backpacks, filled with age appropriate books, games and interactive activities, will give mom and child materials to supplement their special time together during visits.

Often, when the mothers first get to visit with their children, they don’t have games, toys or books for the children. For Leslie, the WIR backpacks are a blessing. “The kids were so excited to have something to play with and knew it was specially picked out for boys their age. The boys felt proud carrying the backpacks,” she said.

When asked how she thinks the backpacks help the families Olivia said, “I think it means growing a relationship with people they know they are related to by blood, but might not feel emotionally related to or connected to yet. So, I feel like that’s really helping them connect, and I think that’s really important.”

Leslie says the contents inside the backpacks opened up new possibilities for her family. “It had been a while since we had been able to play together and it made our time together special. It helped me put into practice everything I was learning about how to communicate with the boys, understand their feelings, play together and bond and taught us all more about each other and how to be a family. ”

To date, Olivia has spent dozens of hours on this project and collected more than $5,000 in donations. She said, “I’m very lucky to have what I have, so it’s important to give back to others.”  Calling Olivia’s efforts “impressive” and Leslie hopes the 12-year-old will understand the impact she is making. “She is making a difference for our families. I would tell Olivia that she has taken on such a major role for improving lives, has a big heart and such dedication to children.”

 

WIR Olivia Backpacks

To learn more about Family & Children’s Services 49 programs and how you may get involved, please contact Susan McCalman, Director of Development, at 918-560-1119 or email smccalman@fcsok.org.