From left are Sgt. Brian Wells, Capt. Rita Wozniak, sixth-grade teacher Jacob Hernandez, and Officer Jim Wilkerson. The staff at VSP’s armory donated 15 sleeping bags to the school so students could attend camp.

By Carmen Maroney, Community Resources Manager
Valley State Prison

When a group of local school children were headed off to camp without the means to purchase sleeping bags, Valley State Prison (VSP) staff stepped up to help.

Berta Cisneros, coordinator of English Learners for Madera Unified School District, said Cesar Chavez Elementary sixth grade students were going to camp, and some students were in need of sleeping bags. Knowing the generous nature of the local prison, she contacted them to see if they knew of a way to help.

“Every year Cesar Chavez Elementary teachers donate sleeping bags but they always need more. This year we were short 15 sleeping bags, and without them some students would not have been be able to attend,” she said.

An email was sent to all VSP staff informing them of this request and the responses were immediate. Numerous staff emailed back pledging to contribute, however, 15 new sleeping bags were anonymously donated and delivered to the Warden’s Office within two hours.

“Shortly after sending the email, I left my office for approximately an hour,” said Lt. Ron Ladd, AA/PIO.  “When I got back, there were 15 new sleeping bags stacked neatly in a pyramid on my desk. There was no note (and) nothing indicating who had left them.”

After a little investigative work, the anonymous donors were identified as Armory Sgt. Brian Wells and Armory Officer Jim Wilkerson. Both initially declined to participate in the delivery of the sleeping bags to Cesar Chavez Elementary.

“This is about kids being able to attend camp with their classmates.  It’s not about us looking for recognition,” said Sgt. Wells.

Lt. Ladd encouraged them to participate.

“It took a little coaxing but they finally agreed to go along and deliver them to the school,” he said. “This is the second year VSP staff has stepped up and generously donated bags to ensure all the kids that want to participate get the opportunity to attend camp. It would be unfortunate if any of them were deprived of the experience because they didn’t have a sleeping bag.”