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START support group to help families of those incarcerated

By Edwina P. Garza
Harlingen Valley Morning Star
September 13, 2007 - 10:44PM

SAN BENITO — A support group for families of incarcerated individuals now has a local chapter here, officials said recently.

The South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center said its collaboration with the Texas Inmate Families Association, Inc. out of Austin will provide a valuable support group for families of individuals incarcerated in Texas prisons and jails.

“We have joined together to support and educate the families affected by having a loved one in the Texas Criminal justice system,” said START Center Director Rhoda Reyes.

The communication, counseling, and rehabilitative programs can really make a difference in the lives of these family members, she said.

Meetings for the group will start in October, Reyes said.

TIFA is a nonprofit organization with a dozen chapters all over Texas with members from around the world, a news release states. The group’s Web site states that one of its major focuses is on the children of men and women in the Texas jail and prison system.

Joan DeLuca, a TIFA board member and widow of Stuart M. DeLuca, the founder of TIFA, said in a news release that the addition of the new chapter will “provide a much needed link to an area that is often under-served in programs such as TIFA.”

START Center CEO Ron Rogers said the idea for the collaboration came about a year ago when a visitor came to the center seeking help. It was then that Rogers said he realized there isn’t any agency that helps these families out.

“We never consider the family,” Rogers said, explaining that the individual often times is the family’s sole provider.

The goals and mission of both groups are similar, Rogers said.

“We’re about helping low- and moderate-income families and families at risk,” he said. “There’s no outreach here, we will be the only group of this kind in the lower Rio Grande Valley.”

There are devastating effects when a family member is sent to prison, he said.

“The system is not kind in these situations,” he said, adding that families have to find the answers to basic questions themselves, like how to send money to a prisoner.

The TIFA group will be a way for these families to not only learn to cope with having a family member in prison, but also serve as a way to network with other families. In fact, in the Valley, a Brownsville woman with a son in jail tried to bring a TIFA chapter to the Valley a few years ago.

“There needs to be a support group,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he expects to see participation from families across the Valley, and if it’s necessary the START Center is open to holding meetings elsewhere in the Valley, depending on the demand.

“This is an opportunity for people to have a resource to depend on, at least for information and a support group,” he said.

For more information about the Texas Inmate Families Association Rio Grande Valley Chapter, call (956) 399-7818 or visit http://www.tifa.org.