Story by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Headquarters for Santa Inc. may be at the North Pole, but a workshop branch is thriving in Stockton at the N. A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (NAC).
It’s here that Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) staff and incarcerated youth ― Santa’s helpers ―deliver joy to the community with annual Restorative Justice Holiday Excursions.
This year’s festive philanthropy included visits to local middle schools, a Walmart Supercenter, the Stockton Emergency Food Bank and the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless.
The effort was promoted by Northern California Youth Correctional Center Superintendent Linda Bridges, and executed by an excursion team that included Parole Agent Carolyn Estridge, Correctional Sgt. Glenn Abrescy, Youth Correctional Officer Robert Lofton, Parole Agent II Michael Houston, Youth Correctional Counselor Felicia Gutierrez of the Conflict Resolution Team, Acting Parole Agent Larry Banks, Parole Agent Thomas Yassu, Senior Youth Correctional Counselor David Briar, Acting Parole Agent Marcelino Rodriguez and several foster grandparents.
Foster grandparents are senior volunteers who attend classes and provide critical assistance to both teachers and students.
Many of the youth at NAC participated in some way, with most contributing via fundraisers that generated $2,000 in contributions ― nearly all from youth ― that funded the excursions.
“I know there is more that can be done, but this is the small contribution we can do for the community and as restorative justice for our youth,” Estridge said. “I know the experience was uplifting and we were able to help a lot of people. It was another successful year giving back to the community.”
The four youthful offenders who accompanied staff on the community missions earned the treks by displaying six months of good behavior and garnering the approval of Superintendent Bridges.
The team first circulated letters to Santa from young students at Stockton’s Glenwood Elementary and Waverly Elementary Schools to participating NAC youth, who penned responses, ghostwriting for Father Christmas.
Those letters from Santa were delivered by costume-clad youth and staff to 10 different classrooms at the two schools Dec. 18.
NAC youth also adopted six families at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless, and received letters containing wish-lists for Christmas gifts.
“Dear Santa, I am 10 years old and living at the Stockton Homeless Shelter,” one letter read. “I am very excited about Christmas. How many elves do you have help you? How many presents do you wrap every year? How is Rudolph? I hope he was happy pulling the sleigh this year. I wear shoes size seven boys… my favorite colors are blue and yellow and I love the character Cyborg from Teen Titans, my favorite toys are Marvel Spiderman and Wolverine. I like the Golden State Warriors and I like basketball and football. What I really want from Santa is a basketball, a Golden State Warriors headband and a bike. I like candy, Pokémon cards and McDonald’s gift cards. Thank you for being my friend this year and my Secret Santa.”
Using the letters to create shopping profiles, the youth prepared gifts for 22 total recipients on a fund of $75 per child and $50 for adults. They bought the items at a local Walmart before delivering them to the shelter three days before Christmas.
It’s an inspirational affair for the youth fortunate enough to play a role.
“The youth who are giving back to the community show their way of making right some of the wrong they have done and finding a way to make amends,” Estridge said. “It’s just very fulfilling to see the people they are helping and how appreciative they are.
“And people are always happy to meet the youth, because the way they carry themselves always gives a different view of our population.”
Shelter aide Mary Stacher said the event was positive for all participants.
“It was really cool to see the youth helping kids unwrap presents,” She said afterward. “It was nice for them to come do that and everyone was really happy about the whole event.”
The excursion team also worked an assembly line for five hours at the Stockton Emergency Food Bank Dec. 21, loading boxes for families containing hearty Christmas turkey dinners.
All of the efforts, starting with energetic fundraisers at NAC and culminating with community outreach to families in desperate need, were made possible by the zealous commitment to restorative justice by NAC youth and staff alike. Restorative justice aims to repair the harm caused by crime through cooperative rehabilitation, reconciliation and service to make communities stronger.
Estridge specifically thanked her excursion team, Superintendent Bridges, Assistant Superintendents Juan Guajardo and David Rossi, and Parole Agent llls Kevin Cerniglia and Madeline Turner for their support of the events.
“Through the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model, we strive to teach our youth to use the prosocial skills and impress on them the importance of maintaining a positive connection to the community,” Estridge said. “By reinforcing these positive behaviors inside and outside the facility we are encouraging the rehabilitation process.
“We thank the continued support of our administration that allows us to continue our yearly mission to provide these services to the community.”
Santa has a tough choice for Employee of the Month.