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The Girl Scouts restart a program that connects girls with their incarcerated mothers

A photo of the Girl Scout Heart of Michigan, Kalamazoo Regional Center on June 17, 2024.  In the foreground is a flag style lawn banner that reads "cookies."  The word is spelled out in white letters on a light orange background with the letters stacked on top of each other vertically on the left side of the banner. On the right vertical side of the banner on a green background is a picture of five types of Girl Scout Cookies, stacked from the top to the bottom of the flag.  And at the bottom, in the lower quarter of the banner in white letters on a dark orange background it reads "Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan" in all lowercase letters.   Behind the flag is the driveway around the front of the concrete building with large panes of glass and a colorful mural on the concrete wall.  The building has  three distinct roof lines that are designed to loosely resemble a person with arms outstretched.  Bushes and trees are close to the building, on the building side of the drive.  A yellow-green lawn is in the foreground.
Leona Larson
Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan, Kalamazoo Regional Center.

The program was paused during the pandemic. Now organizers hope to connect more mothers and daughters.

How do you build a strong parent-child relationship from jail?

The Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan (GSHOM) has a program to do that. It’s called Beyond Bars. It’s a Girl Scout troop for daughters, ages 5-18, with mothers in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) in Ypsilanti.

Ten girls are participating in the new troop. They come together from around the state for monthly troop meetings at the prison to work on badges and other activities with their moms.

“This is a place where they can feel, I would say a normality again. You know, seeing their mom and working with them and they're building a bond with learning new things together,” said Brook Griffin, the program facilitator.

Griffin works out of the GSHOM regional center in Ann Arbor. She said that in many ways, the troop is a lot like every other Girl Scout troop.

“The girls are able to do Girl Scouts activities, go to Girl Scout events, but this is just something that we put in place so that young ladies can have this extra opportunity to work and build this bond with the mother.”

Griffin said the troop meets at the correctional facility once a month outside of regular visiting hours. Beyond Bars, she said, is considered a privilege for inmates who demonstrate a record of good behavior.

Brenna West handles communications for GSHOM, which covers 34 counties with five regional centers. West is based out of the Kalamazoo Regional Center.

West said the Beyond Bars program is free. Participation is covered by donations to GSHOM. That means there are no registration fees or troop dues. Uniforms and badges are free.

When considering the ideal size for the Beyond Bars troop, West said, “If we are dreaming big, I would love to see that every girl who is impacted, you know, that her mother is incarcerated, that she would have this opportunity.”

Families of inmates at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility interested in the Beyond Bars program can contact prison’s Department of Special Activities or call GSHOM at 800-497-2688 for more information.

The Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility is the only all-female prison in Michigan, and is the only place currently offering the Beyond Bars program.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.