Here's one volunteer's experience at HeartBound's 2023 Returning Hearts Celebration. Thank you to everyone who supported this incredible day through your gifts and time!
We all harbor life-defining experiences, which influence our personal opinions and values. In supportive settings, views are expressed and thoughtfully considered. Sometimes open questions find resolution. You know, the “ayes” have it. April 22 was such a day. It was sunny, windy, and a bit chilly under the big tent at Walker State Prison. A huge collection of fabulous costume jewelry sparkled amid several tables of interesting arts and crafts. Early in the day, my “customers” - the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews of men incarcerated at Walker – timidly approached our table to “shop” for gifts for special people in their lives. Of course, the whole experience could be overwhelming. Such an array of exciting choices to make before you head over to the huge inflatables, petting zoo, basketball lessons, kickball games, and much more. I watched each Walker dad/granddad/uncle encourage his child to embrace the day ahead. But you could see it in their young eyes. This was a lot to process. However, throughout the day, I caught repeated glimpses of my once-hesitant patrons… dashing by to escape a water balloon volley, flying down the huge Gator inflatable into the arms of their laughing family member, enjoying a quiet conversation over lunch. When they returned to their “gift shopping” later in the day, the sweaty, face-painted expressions of each family member felt like the glorious chorus of an amazing praise song! We will never know the life-defining experiences of these families and how certain events have shaped each adult and child. However, Returning Hearts 2023 offered the luxurious gift of time and space for each family to add something new and positive to their story. And every volunteer added something special to our own lives as well. It is impossible to forget the look in an inmate’s eyes as he releases from a final hug with his child. And, then you turn to the child who, hours earlier was slow in rekindling this relationship, but now his eyes reveal a connection to something new. Perhaps, lifechanging. Looking for the Returning Hearts story? “The eyes have it!” Come see for yourself! - Amy