Growing up a child with an incarcerated parent can be tough, however, Nick Higgins, the Brooklyn Public Library’s director of outreach services, has created a unique program that provides a way for children to spend quality time with their loved one.
The TeleStory Program debuted in 2014 at the Eastern Parkway main branch, working as the missing link to connect parents in jail with their children living on the outside. The program allows these children to visit the library and have their parents read them a story over video from jail.
Three-year-old Serenity was one of the first children to witness the TeleStory Program as her and her mom chatted through video with her father. The moment was so pure and priceless as she rushed up to the screen to grasp his face with both hands. The family spent about an hour reading books and frolicking in songs like “ITSY BITSY SPIDER.”
Prior to the 2014 launch, Higgins created the Daddy and Me Program, where once a month where children would visit their incarcerated fathers, along with a library employee, to hear them read a story. The library employee would record the visit and give it to the child as a keepsake. Although the program was successful, eventually it began to die down to the point where no one showed up anymore.
With the TeleStory Program, Higgins realized it brought about a sense of convenience for everyone as well as a stronger intimate impact.
In recognition of the program’s radical approach to family and education, the Knight Foundation recently selected the Brooklyn Public Library as one of 14 winners in its Knight News Challenge, an honor that rewarded the library $392,000 in grant money. Director of media innovation at the Knight Foundation, Chris Barr expressed the TeleStory embodies that progressive vision. “The fact that they incorporate the literacy element provides something for the parent that’s incarcerated to engage with the child on,” Barr tells Tech Insider. In turn that creates a “good moment that hopefully both parties benefit from after the incarceration ends.”
So how exactly does the program work? As simple as it is, families just had to give a 48 hour notice to the library, as the DOC would file the necessary paperwork to the jail which would allow the inmates schedule to be arranged accordingly.
“I can walk down the street to read books to my kids anytime I want, but for the families who are impacted by the justice system, that’s obviously not the case,” Higgins added. “It’s really special to see kids and their parents have that opportunity just to be with one another without any restrictions. And for it to exist in a public library just makes sense to me.”
With the Knight Foundation award, TeleStory will be now begin expanding the service to other library branches and will also be able to work closely with the Osborne Association, which helps individuals who have been incarcerated join educational and other programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving quality of life.