Finding Family

Operation Open Arms Serves Children in Need

By Graham Pilotte

When one or both parents in a family are incarcerated, what happens to their children? Operation Open Arms, a Louisville nonprofit, is dedicated to finding a positive answer to that question. For 16 years, they have been working to place children in temporary or long-term foster homes, ensuring that these children can continue to grow in a safe and nurturing environment despite parental incarceration.

“Operation Open Arms is all about the kids,” explains Cathy Bailey, founder and chair of the board. “We’ve been operating since 2001, and have been licensed by the state as a foster and adoption agency since 2003. We’ve served 40 children over those 16 years.” Founded by Cathy and Irv Bailey, the agency has been recognized nationally for its mission and work. “Our doors are open because we wanted to dedicate our time in establishing a loving, caring environment to raise children whose mothers are incarcerated,” Bailey says. “People don’t really think about what happens to children whose parents are in prison.”

According to the Operation Open Arms website, 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers. Meanwhile, the average age of children with an incarcerated parent is just eight years old, and 22 percent of those children are under the age of five. At such a young age, having a safe environment to grow up in is desperately needed. “It’s an opportunity to raise and care for these children as they grow up, and an opportunity for the children to become responsible adults and citizens,” Bailey says.

Their work is absolutely crucial as parental incarceration can lead to financial difficulties, low self-esteem and unstable relationships, among many other problems. “Statistics tell us that children born to incarcerated parents often enter into criminal activity themselves,” Bailey says. “What’s special about Operation Open Arms is that we’re giving children the opportunity to lead a normal life, ride the bus to school in the neighborhood where they live, have meals as a family and be provided with a moral structure to guide them in making the right choices later on in life.”

Operation Open Arms welcomes support from the Louisville community. “We’re in the midst of a fundraiser, selling Christmas cards that feature the artwork of our Operation Open Arms children,” Bailey says. “They sell for $20 for a pack of 24.” Financial contributions of any amount are much-needed, and donations of children’s clothes and toys are welcome as well. Community members are encouraged to participate in the fundraiser, but also to follow Operation Open Arms on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on their work.

Operation Open Arms is changing the lives of children in our city for the better, and their invaluable efforts deserve the community’s support. “They’re thriving in the care of our families,” Bailey says warmly. “These children deserve a chance at a better life and we’re committed, every day, to making sure that happens.” VT

Operation Open Arms

Email jennifer@oparms.org