Story by Whitney Carter. Video by Angelica Villa. Photos provided by Girls Embracing Mothers.
Dallas Doing Good has had the privilege of partnering with the Communities Foundation of Texas for North Texas Giving Day over the past few years, but this year, we are doing it Texas BIG. It is the 15th anniversary of the largest community giving event in the nation, so we have selected 15 organizations to highlight leading up to Giving Day on September 21. Early giving kicked off on September 1.
Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls with mothers in prison to break the cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose.
Brittany K. Barnett, founder and president of GEM, says that they began their transformative work in 2013 after she experienced the incarceration of her own mother.
“My personal journey has deeply informed my mission at Girls Embracing Mothers. I’ve witnessed firsthand the impacts of maternal incarceration on families and communities. It is devastating to have any loved one incarcerated, but I can say from firsthand experience it is a primal wound when it is your mother.”
Brittany says that this is a pain she understands intimately, and it drives her to ensure that girls find healing, support, and a path to a brighter future. Through GEM, Brittany and her team work to break the cycle and build the bond.
She says they have helped hundreds of women and girls since they started.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice recently reported the number of women who are incarcerated is currently more than six times what it was in 1980. The latest numbers show there are about 976,000 women in the criminal justice system right now.
“Mass incarceration is a pressing civil rights issue of our time,” Brittany says. “Women are among the fastest growing population. Texas incarcerates more women by sheer number than any other state in the country.”
According to Brittany, roughly 80 percent of the women incarcerated in Texas are mothers. It is a difficult reality for so many young women.
“These statistics don’t just represent numbers, but stories of resilience, empowerment, and hope,” Brittany says.
Brittany’s passion comes from a deep understanding of the far-reaching impact of having a family member in the prison system. She believes that no child should navigate these situations independently.
“We believe in nurturing resilience and providing these girls with a strong foundation to rise above their circumstances,” Brittany says.
GEM’s objective is to create lasting change, not just a temporary escape. The program serves girls in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, covering a wide age range to ensure they can help as many as they can. Brittany says their programming addresses the specific needs and challenges of each developmental age.
“Our primary programs are facilitating prison visits between mothers and daughters, and empowering workshops designed to equip girls with essential skills and confidence for their future,” Brittany explains.
Their efforts over the last decade have not stopped there. GEM has built programs that include empowerment workshops, re-entry support and healing justice for women, and economic empowerment for women and girls ready to enter college and the workforce.
“We helped the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition change policies on how women are treated in the criminal legal system. We have also helped shift the narrative on justice-impacted families by producing evidence-based reports and sharing our stories in the media,” Brittany says.
Brittany finds time for this work while continuing the core programming, which involves taking girls to visit their moms and building bonds that otherwise may not have happened. GEM is a volunteer-based organization with dedicated and empathetic people doing what they can to ensure the programs are impactful.
When people donate to their cause, she says every dollar goes directly into the organization and its programs.
“They cover expenses such as transportation and meals for prison visits, as well as supporting our empowering summer camps and workshops. Every dollar contributes to creating positive change in the lives of these girls,” Brittany says.
They also pride themselves on the number of women who have kept their promises to stay out of the system. Only 5.7 percent of the women in their program have returned to prison compared to the national recidivism rate of 46 percent.
“None of the girls in our program have entered the juvenile or criminal legal system. When kids are connected with their parents, their mental and emotional well-being is improved, they do better in school, and even their long-term physical health is impacted,” Brittany says.
They welcome help in several ways, including volunteer support, financial contributions, and word of mouth. To learn more, you can check out their North Texas Giving Day page, or you can visit their website here.
“By coming together, we can amplify our impact and create a brighter future for these girls and their families,” Brittany says.
GEM is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an event on October 28 in Dallas called #amplifyHER.