UNT students helping connect children with moms who are incarcerated through the power of storytelling

DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas students are working with the Women’s Storybook Project to make the holidays a little brighter for children whose moms are incarcerated.

Senior Julia Langlois and 29 of her classmates in the College of Health and Public Service Social Work program chose the organization to support this semester as part of a long-standing tradition in the department to assist a group that needs some extra help. With COVID-19 restricting many activities, the Women’s Storybook Project was a great fit, as it allowed the fourth-year social work students to make an impact without in-person contact.

“When we were contacting organizations to see who might need help, they said that any help this semester would be great, since there’s a lot more people in the prisons wanting to participate during the holidays,” Langlois said.

The Women’s Storybook Project originated in 1994 and allows women who are incarcerated in state prisons to record themselves reading a story and offer a short greeting to their child. The recording and a copy of the book they read are then sent to the child at no cost to the parent or child.

“A lot of the letters that they’ve received from children express that it’s an important thing to have,” Langlois said. “The child’s other parents sometimes will write and say it’s a valuable thing, especially the message in the beginning. A call is one thing, but to see their face and get to ‘talk’ to their mom in a way, that’s pretty special.”

The social work class is primarily collecting the recorded books and sending them to the children. They’re using an Amazon Wishlist and crowdfunding to help support the project in a socially distanced way.

“One of the difficulties with COVID initially was that we were going to be doing the volunteer work inside the facility,” she said. “It’s just a safety thing, you can’t really do in-person contact now. We are limited now to collecting books.”

Throughout the semesters, Assistant Professor Karla Horton, who advises the project, said the seven cohorts that have chosen to work with local organizations have raised more than $29,000 in monetary and physical donations for seven different service-learning organizations. The work they did this year was dubbed “UNT Storybook Project.”

“UNT Storybook Project, contributed so much because they blazed a trail in an unprecedented time,” Horton said. “All their efforts were conducted strictly online, and our Executive Board, Co-Chairs of our four committees and subcommittee, and our members went above and beyond to achieve success on this project even with the COVID-19 restriction and university regulations in place. I look forward to what this type of service-learning will inspire future cohorts to do to serve their community and empower community members!”