My name is Sylvia “Tawanda” Vandroff. I grew up in a small town in SC, the oldest of three children. My mother and father provided a stable home for us. We didn’t have a lot, but my parents made it work. Neither of my parents completed high school, but my father got his G.E.D. Though they did not complete high school, they were world-wise and provided the needs of the family. My father was often gone and my mother did not drive, so the children found their own entertainment by making mud pies, playing hide and seek, and playing school. As the oldest, I often found myself helping my younger siblings with a lot of things. When they went to school, I helped them with their school work. When my brother went to kindergarten, my mom and I cried as he got on the school bus. I felt he was my child. As a result of my helping so much, I learned responsibility at an early age.
Later, when I was in high school, I had a home economics teacher whose husband was a pastor. I joined his church at 16 and there I began helping other people other than just my own family. My volunteer journey began there with volunteering to help elderly people, children, and anyone in need. As an adult, I became a social worker and worked in that industry for 16 years.
About 15 years ago, I ran into an old high school friend who had gotten into trouble in high school and went to prison for 10 years. We talked about his life and he said he was determined not to go back to prison, yet he did. This time he was convicted of something he did not do. In the process of talking to him and finding out what ways I could help him, I discovered things most people don’t know about prison. I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with prison because I had a cousin who went to prison. Prisoners are sometimes often treated inhumanely almost like animals. Their food is not good and often stale. They only get two meals on the weekend. A job may pay only $.07 per hour. A whole world exists right before our noses that we do not know very much about.
As I talked with him, I also interacted with other prisoners and their families. His roommate was in prison for rape. There is no excuse for his crime, but when he was a child he had been raped 3 times. The first at 2 years old, then at 5 years old and again at 8. I looked at my time as a social worker and wondered how many children we may have missed and will one day be like this man in prison. This was a defining moment for me.
Another Chance to Bridge the Gap was born out of an awakening and awareness of how I and my organization can help children, families, and adults.