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DJJ youth stuffed gift bags in October. From left are Franco Zitelli, Jonathon Vasquez, Francisco Balderas and Incentive Coordinator Jennifer Johnson.

By Division of Juvenile Justice staff

On Jan. 17, Jennifer Johnson, Dainette Bowens, Mia Sandoval and Parole Agent Carolyn Estridge spent two hours visiting with patients undergoing chemotherapy at Doctors Hospital in Modesto. In addition to conversations with the patients, they delivered gift bags packed by youth offenders at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

After engaging in conversations and listening to their stories we gave them the gift bags that were put together by our DJJ youth with funds they earned in fundraising within the institution. In addition to providing company and gift bags with assorted items they were also given inspirational notes written by our youth to encourage them to be positive and keep fighting.

The bags were put together in October as a part of Breast Cancer Month and have been gradually passed out as different patients come in and receive treatments under the program Mission Love/Hope.

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DJJ youth stuffed gift bags in October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The bags were delivered in January to cancer patients.

DJJ was invited to share in the experience. Mia Sandoval, founder of program, wanted to allow DJJ staff to see first-hand the positive reaction to the program and how moving it is to all the people involved. One of the patients was with her daughter and they were so appreciative of the bag that when Dainette Bowens discussed the mission, values and goals of DJJ with her, she requested to donate items so that it could continue.

In addition, another patient that Mia went to visit who was terminally ill and getting ready to be moved to hospice greatly appreciated the gift bag and Mia stated “She smiled when she saw the items and the cards.”

In October 2017, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, DJJ youth assisted staff in putting together gift bags and wrote inspirational notes to women who are currently struggling with cancer and receiving treatment.

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The youth offenders penned letters to the cancer patients.

The bags were to be distributed to women who were undergoing chemotherapy for cancer at Doctors Medical Hospital in Modesto. The goal was to meet with them, provide company and a gift bag full of items. Many of the women are required to sit for hours while they receive treatment. The gift bags were filled with small items they could use as a distraction (journals, nail polish, devotionals, fuzzy socks, scarf, bracelet and tumblers) were just some of the items included in these bags.

Mia Sandoval, event organizer, reached out to DJJ for assistance with gift bag donations after watching her father go through cancer. She stated that after seeing so many other people going through treatments while visiting with her father, she wanted to do something that was positive, inspirational and uplifting. She holds a special place for the struggle and knows that we pull strength from the love and support of others. She had this idea and after working with several hospitals was able to get approvals to come often and visit with many of the patients undergoing treatments.

Dainette Bowens, Board of Juvenile Hearings, reached out to Parole Agent Carolyn Estridge and Incentive Coordinator Jennifer Johnson and told them about the program Mission Hope/Love. Staff coordinated to collect money, shop and have the youth assist with the gift bags and notes to make this possible.

“DJJ youth gave of their hearts to write such inspirational messages on the cards that put a smile on their face for a moment no matter what the stage. I have to say the things that I learned from this experience are that anyone can overcome their health issues as long as you have the right mindset as Ms. Maria (Patient undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer) showed me that on Wednesday,” said Bowens.

“Cancer affects so many people and in just knowing that we could distract these women from their current situation and bring them smiles, gifts and inspirational words were so awesome. One of the patients, Maria, read one of the youth’s notes that said, ‘You have nothing left to do but fight.’ Maria smiled and said, ‘He’s right about that and I will continue to do that.’ We were extremely grateful to Mia Sandoval and Dainette Bowens for including us in this Restorative Justice Project,” said Estridge.

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Nurses at the hospital pose for a photo with DJJ staff Mia Sandoval (third from left), Parole Agent Estridge (fifth from left) and Incentive Coordinator Jennifer Johnson.