CHCF visiting staff encourage kids to excel academically through their “Reach for the Stars” program.

By Lt. Barry Tisdale, AA/PIO
California Health Care Facility

It was an otherwise normal day at California Health Care Facility’s Visiting Room. The noise level was high as inmates and their families chatted and laughed. “Can I have your attention, everybody?” asked Sgt. Wilona Lewis, her loud voice cutting through the din. “We have someone in the crowd who has achieved a milestone we all need to honor.” A hush fell over the Visiting Room.

Sgt. Lewis explained how a young man within a matter of five months brought his grades from an F to an A. She called his name and he walked to the front of the room as inmates and their families applauded. The young man broke into a broad smile as he shook hands with Sgt. Lewis and gave a high-five to the lieutenant.

This was the latest success story in an informal program started by Sgt. Lewis and her team. Dubbed “Reach for the Stars,” the celebration of academic success began on accident.

A grandmother asked her to speak to her grandson to encourage him to do well in school. Sgt. Lewis willingly spoke with the child and he promised to do better. A few months passed and the child brought his report card to show Sgt. Lewis and they were greatly improved. She was so proud, she shared it with the whole visiting room. Thus, the program was born, encouraging kids who come to visit their incarcerated fathers.

Giving recognition for success in the classroom will hopefully motivate them to continue to do well in school, continuing on the right path. The program has grown and now visitors donate kid-friendly gift cards to acknowledge the students’ success. Because of the connection and reaction, visitors give freely to the young kids.