It’s always a challenge to choose a subject for our annual Helping Hands issue, which honors the volunteer work our readers do throughout the year. Busy as they are at their jobs, our readers nevertheless find time — make time — to walk to raise money to cure diseases, mentor at-risk youngsters, serve meals at soup kitchens, give up spring evenings and weekends to coach Little League teams, spend their Saturdays helping jobseekers find work — and so much more.
This year’s subject was inspired by Stan Kephart, our longtime design director, who died December 2, 2007. Despite the fact that Stan worked with us for some 20 years, those of us who attended his memorial service were surprised to learn about his life beyond his interests in art and journalism, especially the substantial time he committed to working as a prison volunteer. So dedicated was Stan that his fellow volunteers, who knew nothing of Stan’s life as an artist and illustrator, just assumed that prison outreach was the biggest part of his life.
Stan came to work with prisoners through his wife, Mary Julia Kephart, a Princeton resident who continues his work. Stan, she recalls, regularly visited prisons all over the state as a volunteer for the Christian Science Committee for Institutional Services in the state of New Jersey.
One of Stan’s fellow prison volunteers, speaking at the service, made it clear that the work is among the most thankless in the world. This is so, at least in part, because it is so hidden. As our story on Celia Chazelle shows, prisoners live in a world that is separated from the streets, offices, stores, and restaurants that most of us take for granted. The work, while sometimes frightening, can also be tremendously rewarding.
A story Mary Julia tells brings home this point. One prisoner appeared when she and Stan made a visit, and said “I’m not interested in what you’re doing, I just wanted to see what kind of person would want to spend time with us on a beautiful Saturday like this.”
We are grateful to Matthew Schuman of the Department of Corrections for putting us in touch with Chazelle, who in her day job is the chairman of the history department at the College of New Jersey.
If Celia’s story inspires you to look into volunteer opportunities with the state’s prison population, you will find a surprisingly varied list of options included in a sidebar to this story appearing on page 36.
Holiday Schedule. This is our last issue of the year. It is being put out one day ahead of time, on Tuesday, December 23. We will skip the issue normally scheduled on Wednesday, December 31 (and instead raise a glass in honor of you, our readers), and then resume publication on Wednesday, January 7, with our annual Survival Guide edition.