TORONTO — A free after-school program in the GTA provides children and teens whose parents are incarcerated with opportunities to engage in the arts, a variety of sports and enjoy a home cooked meal together.

F.E.A.T. stands for Fostering, Empowering and Advocating Together for children of incarcerated parents.

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“When I was teaching out West, I had three students who had a dad who was in custody and these children were struggling,” said Jessica Reid, co-founder of the program.

“It was something that I personally could relate to because I was separated from my father for 24 years.”

Jessica united with her father Derek in June of 2011. The impact of being separated for more than two decades was enough to fuel their passion to make a difference in the lives of children.

“These children are so small and they go through so much,” said Karolina Budrewicz, a F.E.A.T. mentor. “But then you see how strong they can actually be and it is quite inspiring to be honest.”

The children are also given a platform to talk about their thoughts and feelings while learning healthy coping strategies from mentors.

“I know that even if I tell these people and they didn’t have the same problem, I wouldn’t have an issue where they go around and tell everyone,” said F.E.A.T. participant Rayshawn. “They would keep it to themselves and help me with it.”

Every year around 350,000 children across Canada are affected by parental incarceration.

“They remain innocent and forgotten victims in this country,” said Reid. “This doesn’t have to define them. Their parents actions don’t have to be their future.”

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