Prison partnership brightens holidays for RPES students

From left, Detrick Riley, Yterecia Davis, Erica Cunningham, Paul Martin, Toya McMillian, Leslie Sellers

News Staff Writer

A new alliance between a local school and a local prison will allow four students, for whom Christmas looked bleak, to now enjoy a gift-filled holiday.
The partnership, between the staff of Fountain Correctional Facility and the students at Rachel Patterson Elementary School, evolved from a relationship that was formed long ago, a friendship that involves RP principal Toya McMillian.
“I called Mrs. McMillian — we were childhood friends and grew up together — and asked her to give us the names of four of her most needy kids,” explained Alabama Department of Corrections employee Eric Cunningham, who works at FCC and headed up the project. “Hopefully, this will be good for them.”
Cunningham said during a December 15 presentation to school officials that FCF’s participation was two-phased.
She pointed out that correctional officers and other employees donated money, then she, Detrick Riley, Yterecia Davis and Paul Martin went out and bought age-appropriate and gender-appropriate gifts. Another group of Fountain employees contributed a second wave of toys, clothes and other items for the four children.
“Each of the officers there donated monetarily, and we went out and did some shopping,” she said. “Nurses at the facility actually went out and bought stuff separately. We’re short staffed, and the officers had no time to do shopping, so they just donated money, and we went out and did the shopping.”
The items destined for the lucky youngsters filled several huge gift bags.
“We wanted to go ahead and bag each one [separately],” Cunningham said. “But in those bags, there are remote-controlled trucks, Barbie dolls, clothes everything, so they are going to have a great Christmas.”
Fountain Correctional Warden Mary Cooks had planned to attend the presentation but had to attend the graduation of a new class of correctional officers.
The head of the Fountain contingent said the facility’s employees were happy to help with the project, which is part of Angel Tree.
“We’re so happy to do this,” Cunningham said. “This is not just one group, it’s the whole facility partnering with the school.”
McMillian said she and the school were “forever grateful” to the employees who took part in the project.
“The employees were able to purchase everything on our students’ Christmas wish lists, including bicycles, a hoverboard, a pink dollhouse, a toy pony, superhero toys, remote-control cars and trucks, baby dolls, clothes, shoes and lots more,” the principal said. “All four students also received a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes; most of the students have never owned a pair of Air Jordans before. We are looking forward to partnering with G.K. Fountain again in the near future.”
She added that she and RPES were blessed that one of her childhood friends was in a position to help the school.
“It’s good to have friends in high places and in low places,” she laughed while refusing to say into which group Cunningham fits. “This is just awesome.”