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Christmas with San Mateo County Service League, an agency aiding inmate rehabilitation

Working hand-in-hand with San Mateo Sheriff's Department, the Service League works to encourage a responsible transition back into their communities for inmates.


By Megan Wells, CorrectionsOne Contributor 

The holidays are a time for giving. But many forget about an especially vulnerable population when it comes to charitable giving. 

I visited both the McGuire Correctional Facility and the Maple Street Correctional Center in Redwood City, California early Christmas morning. I joined a group of volunteers who spent the morning handing out Christmas cookies and singing Christmas carols to the incarcerated men and women. 

Jane Shroyer with service league members and volunteers. (Photo/Megan Wells)
Jane Shroyer with service league members and volunteers. (Photo/Megan Wells)

I was invited to participate in today’s event by Jane Shroyer, a board member of The Service League of San Mateo County, (the sponsor of today’s Christmas event). The Service League is a non-profit agency that works hand-in-hand with the sheriff’s department to improve the well-being of inmates, both while in custody and after release.

Shroyer became involved with this nonprofit because one of her loved ones faces a battle with addiction, and was helped immensely by the Service League programs in the San Mateo County Jail, as well as a sister program called Delancey Street. “It’s been a 15-year process, but I can now say I am truly proud of my son. Not for the reasons that brought him here, but for the progress he has made.” Giving back to the program, especially during the holiday season, has become an important part of Shroyer’s life, “I believe jail, and most importantly the inmate programs available in San Mateo County saved my son’s life.” 

Shroyer, and the Service League, recently wrapped a couple hundred gifts for children and grandchildren of inmates. The Service League also threw a Christmas Party for the children in the Childcare, and Santa didn’t disappoint.  Each activity is a compliment to today’s cookie extravaganza. 

The Service League has been around for over 50 years in San Mateo County. They develop, coordinate, and deliver in-custody and after-release programs for all San Mateo County inmates and their families. The goal of this nonprofit agency is to help inmates successfully re-enter life outside as a contributing citizen and responsible family member. 

Karen Francone, Executive Director of the Service League, recognizes basic support like providing clothing for court appearances and relaying messages to family members, and emotional support is often overlooked for inmates. 

Many inmates are ready to change but don’t have the tools to help them. Shroyer recalls an inmate telling her, “I don’t want a life of crime. When I get out, I want to do what you’re doing”. 

Francone says that she’s found while people are incarcerated, they have an abundance of time to reflect. “Being in the jail setting makes inmates increasingly vulnerable and ready to change.”  Additional programs the Service League offers to help inmates transition, effectively into society include:

  • Anger management and parenting
  • Domestic violence counseling
  • Choices 
  • GED tutoring
  • Job search workshops
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Project read 
  • Substance abuse programs

The Service League also operates seven Hope Houses. Two of the Hope Houses offers a six-month residential treatment for women (some pregnant or with infants) trying to quit drugs, alcohol. The other homes are for male or female inmates that need transitional housing. 

 Wrapped cookies for the San Mateo County inmates (Photo/Megan Wells)

This agency's good doings are especially important to share during the holidays. As I participated in today’s events I was overwhelmed by the realization these inmates don’t have their families surrounding them today. Even on the floors with the most hardened criminals, there were many tears. It was clear how meaningful these small acts of kindness were to the inmates.  

It’s a challenging time, to be incarcerated during the holidays. “The incarcerated want to be home with their families, their children. The Service League can’t heal their pain, but we can do our part to let them know they are thought about, ” says Shroyer. 

This holiday season, I was lucky enough to join Jane Shroyer to spread hope in a tangible way. But the Service League looks for help year round. As Shroyer says, “they say it takes a village, but here you have a whole county.” To learn more, or donate, click here

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