Shereen Vinke first fell in love with Women’s Storybook Project in 2018 when a member of her church gave a presentation on prison ministries.
“I remember being impressed at how much went into making WSP happen–sorting and collecting and distributing books, arranging for all the volunteers and getting them where they needed to be, communicating with the prisons about volunteers and supplies and participants and addresses, making sure everything was addressed correctly and made it into the mail. It’s a program that requires so many people to run!”
In January 2020, Shereen became the team leader for the Woodman State Jail. Though COVID briefly forced her to pivot to the WSP letter-writing program, her work in the prison had already given her many opportunities to appreciate the variety of moms in the program.
“We have ladies who struggle to read and ladies who love reading, ladies with strong family support and ladies who reminisce about their parent’s struggles with drugs or prostitution, ladies who profess to have never read to their children and those who offer thoughtful parenting advice to others. It’s easy to assume that everyone in prison fits a certain mold, but anyone from any background can make choices that land them in prison.”
Meeting a variety of people through WSP and making connections with both the mothers and the other volunteers is Shereen’s favorite part of her work. “I love the social aspect of the program. I enjoy riding to and from the unit chatting with my fellow volunteers and getting to know them, and I enjoy spending time in my unit chatting with the moms and hearing about their kids and their lives and their struggles and successes.”
She hopes people realize how significant the program is to everyone involved, and she also emphasizes that there is another whole group of people affected by the program that the volunteers often don’t get to see firsthand.
“We get to interact with the moms, who are overwhelmingly grateful–often near tears–both for the interaction with outsiders that reminds them that they are more than a number in the system and for the chance to do something meaningful for their children. But we don’t get to see the other side–the kids. Moms are reporting that these books make their children light up with joy, help their younger kids learn to read, and provide their older kids with something to talk about with their mom, sometimes about the first book they actually cared about enough to finish. Because we don’t usually see the aftereffects of our volunteer work, sometimes it’s easy to forget what a difference it makes in people’s lives. It’s not just a nice gesture: it affirms for these kids that they are loved and remembered, and it allows these moms to feel empowered to do something positive for their children despite their distance and limitations.”
When Shereen isn’t working with WSP, she likes to volunteer at other organizations and homeschool her three kids.