Hoping to help students embark on a path to success, two Ellsworth Correctional Facility (ECF) residents gave both time and money recently to the Ottawa Middle School.
Invited to speak to a group of sixth graders in October, the two inmates made such a powerful impact that they were asked to return to speak to seventh and eighth grade students in mid-November, all as part of a grant-funded program called Communities in Schools that aims to assist at-risk students.
“It was powerful. You could have heard a pin drop,” said Ottawa Middle School Principal Carmen Schaefer of the first visit by the inmates. “It was so well received that we wanted to give the other students at the school the chance to hear from them.”
But unbeknownst to Schaefer and the students was that they had also had an impact on the inmates. The two men returned to ECF determined to share more than just words. They raised $700 in donations from their fellow inmates to give to the Communities in Schools program.
“We were really surprised and thrilled that they wanted to help make a difference at our school,” said Schaefer. “They had a hope that the money could help someone to have a better opportunity than they’d had.”
Schaefer said the Communities in Schools program helps provide things like food, clothing and even eye glasses to needy students, as well as host character-building events like hosting the speakers from ECF.
“They were really excited by the opportunity to go visit the school, and they did a great job,” said ECF Information Coordinator Todd Britton. “They saw that they had a chance to make a difference, and they really were motivated when they went back to make a financial contribution to the program.”
Recognizing that the early teen years are crucial for character development, Schaefer said she believes the two visits by the inmates were effective. Schaefer said the students found the inmates’ account of life in prison particularly fascinating.
“What they said really moved the students,” said Schaefer. “They really stressed that the choices kids make now will really impact their futures. The students walked away with a real impression of what life in prison is like and the seriousness of their choices.”