ORANGE PARK – Kids First of Florida, a community-based agency for children’s welfare and foster care in Clay County, received a $600 donation from inmates of Union County Correctional Institution …
ORANGE PARK – Kids First of Florida, a community-based agency for children’s welfare and foster care in Clay County, received a $600 donation from inmates of Union County Correctional Institution in Raiford.
Approximately 110 inmates of the prison are members of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
“Every year for the past six years, we have been making donations to different charities throughout the state of Florida,” said Gary Newman, Vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Florida State Council. Newman is also the advisor of the incarcerated chapter 1080 of the organization.
“We raise money by having a Walk-A-Thon every year, and that’s where we generate our money, plus donations. This year we weren’t able to have the Walk-A-Thon to raise the money, but we did have some assets left over. The prisoners decided who to give the money to.”
Union County Correctional Institution, formerly known at Florida State Prison, houses the state’s most-dangerous criminals, including all 339 inmates sentenced to Death Row.
Newman quickly realized some of the most-hardened prisoners still want to play a role, however limited, in their community.
Newman already had discussed Kids First with the inmates, and they immediately liked the donation idea.
“We are in a position now where we can do a little more for our kids, especially during the Christmas season, with a donation like this that Gary [Newman] was able to acquire through the generosity of these inmates,” said Ernie Cohen of Kids First.
Newman is partial to Kids First. He came from a broken home and was raised in foster homes and orphanages. He didn’t have a real Christmas until he was 6 and he has never forgotten the one gift he received that year – a Nutcracker set.
“I’ve always had a very soft heart for kids who unfortunately cannot have a decent Christmas,” he said. “So, I really wanted to be able to support the Kids First program of giving out gifts at Christmas time.”
Some of the inmates at the prison in Chapter 1080 had a similar childhood experience and wanted to give back to society as much as they could. This small effort was one way they could do that.
Donating to Kids First touched those involved.
“It made us super-ecstatic,” said Newman. “We love giving back to the children, especially those who unfortunately have not had nice Christmases.”
“I was so moved by this,” said Cohen. “Gary [Newman] is very involved with the Vietnam Veterans of America, and they’ve been generous with us in the past, and Gary’s been generous with us on a personal level. Those are always appreciated. But a group of people, seeing the challenges of these inmates, it makes it even a little bit more special than people just out in the community on an everyday basis. They took it on themselves to raise money for these kids and it’s just so moving for me and everybody else in the agency.”