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A day on the ice

Children of incarcerated parents find their footing in Central Park

A day on the ice

A Prison Fellowship volunteer skates with a child at Wollman ice rink. (Prison Fellowship)

A New York moment: 

A cold and clear Saturday in Central Park is the right time for ice skating and hot chocolate. About 60 children eagerly hit the park’s Wollman ice rink this past weekend as part of Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. All have incarcerated parents. 

Olympic figure skater JoJo Starbuck and other instructors were carving the rink to train the children, some of whom had never skated before but stayed on the rink for hours despite the unseasonably cold weather. 

Starbuck took a break from lessons to talk on the sidelines. Prison Fellowship’s president James Ackerman, on the other hand, was too busy skating with some of the kids to talk—“Every time I go around I’ll come back to the wall and answer a question,” he said. Ackerman said Starbuck had been going to Rikers Island (the city’s main jail) with the ministry.

Prison Fellowship

James Ackerman, right, at Wollman ice rink (Prison Fellowship)

Starbuck herself was raised by a single mother. She noticed one of her tiny pupils scrambling along the ice. “She’s still standing!” Starbuck said. “I’m so proud.”

The kids came mainly from the Bronx and Harlem, many with their grandparents, who are their caregivers. Metropolitan AME church in Harlem was one of main neighborhood connectors for the ice rink adventure. For the past few years the Harlem church has been providing gifts to families upstate through Angel Tree, in Rochester and Albany. This year they’re working with about 110 children in their own neighborhood.

“For us it’s a segue to bringing them to Christ—teaching them about God, bringing them into our church,” said Andrea Scott, who was there with other women leaders from her church’s missionary society. Their church ministers to Angel Tree families in other ways; when one woman had to move to Brooklyn, Scott offered to drive and pick her up for church every Sunday. 

Joe Avila, a Prison Fellowship staffer who organized the event, knows how important that connection was for him. He was incarcerated in the 1990s, and his family participated in Angel Tree while he was in prison. The church his family connected to through Angel Tree began helping his wife financially and in other ways. When he first got out of prison, the church put up a banner at its entrance that said ‘Welcome home Joe.’ He has been attending the church with his family ever since.

Worth your time:  

wonderful snapshot of a small Dutch town in Iowa. My Iowan relatives say this piece is spot on. “When an Orange City teacher wants to divide her class in half,” the piece begins, “she will say, ‘A’s through ‘U’s to one side, ‘V’s through ‘Z’s to the other.”

This week I learned: 

In the 137-year history of the Met Opera, no singer has ever hit the A above high C–until now.

A court case you might not know about: 

case from California concerns a 2015 law that requires licensed pregnancy resource centers to post a sign advertising that the state offers free or low-cost contraceptives and abortions. (The law doesn't apply to unlicensed pro-life counseling centers.) On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made an initial ruling against the pregnancy centers challenging the law, so the Supremes’ decision to grant the case might indicate a desire to reverse the lower court. In 2014, New York’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a similar law in the city targeting pregnancy centers on the grounds that it violated their free speech.

Culture I am consuming: 

The 2017 film version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. It’s mediocre. Kenneth Branagh (a perfect Hercule Poirot) and the meals on the train are the main attractions.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback.