Published : Thursday, January 7, 2016 | 3:14 AM
This Sunday’s 7 p.m. benefit show at the Ice House featuring the humor of well-known local weatherman and really funny stand-up comic Friz Coleman covers the bases: it will be a lot of light-hearted fun, but raise money for a serious local cause.
The show will benefit the “Mothers Behind Bars” educational outreach of the local “Talk About Parenting with Shirlee Smith” organization.
At a time when Pasadena is experiencing a wave of gang shootings, the power of parenting couldn’t be more important or relevant.
Beyond heart-wrenching, the tragedy of children whose mothers are imprisoned can evolve into the even more profound tragedy of youngsters growing up overlooked and under-parented.
For those kids and the communities in which they grow, almost nothing could be more important than using that time behind bars to turn their mothers into better parents.
Well-known local columnist, speaker and cable TV personality Shirlee Smith and her organization, Talk About Parenting, are doing just that.
Smith says when she first meets with inmates in the Chino Prison she asks them two questions.
“‘How many of you want to see your kids right here where you are?’ Nobody’s hand go up. Then, ‘How many of you would like to see your kids graduate high school or get a college degree?’ And everybody’s hand goes up,” she said in an interview last month.
Talk About Parenting’s no-nonsense, practical approach helps the women master basics of parenting. The group supplies a stream of books to the inmates’ children, and helps the women transition back into civilian life when they are released.
“What we’ve learned is that it’s one thing to hear all this in the prison, but then when you are released there is an adjustment. There’s resources that you need, and we need to add that transition to what we do,” Smith explained. She said her group will soon be relocating new headquarters at the Flintridge Center soon.
“Flintridge is pretty much a hub for reentry programs,” she said.
Smith the women appreciate the practical, down-to-earth information her programs provide.
“Our presenters are required to speak to the women not just from their expertise but from their own experiences.,” Smith said. “One of our sessions is on resources and guess who our presenter is? It’s [Pasadena Police Chief] Phil Sanchez!”
Smith’s efforts began in 1997 as a TV show on the city cable station, It’s purpose, Smith said, was to help parents be better parents. People loved the show and began to ask her if she could present community workshops.
“Can you come speak?” Smith said she would be asked, constantly. “So we began to do a lot of public speaking.”
“Then five years ago in a meeting with Carol Liu she said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about taking your programs to women in prison?’ She said it would be really be helpful there,” Smith said. “I had a friend who was a former inmate so I called my friend and asked her ‘When you were locked up, would it be really helpful for [programs] like this?’ My friend said ‘Oh my God, yes! Yes, it really would! She had three children she left behind.”
Smith said she looked at the workshops she was already staging — about 16 — and picked out the ones that would be helpful to women who didn’t have their kids with them. She packaged them as “Mothers Behind Bars.”
That set the future direction for Talk About Parenting, she said.
“We still do workshops on the outside of prison but we do the prison project at the California Institute for women we’ve done this for 5 years. It’s very successful. We have a huge waiting list.”
The organization’s website, talkaboutparenting.org, offers a wealth of resources for parents.
This weekend’s benefit will raise money for the group’s efforts. Smith said that Coleman has been “very, very generous” in supporting the group.
This Sunday’s benefit starts at 7:00 p.m. at The Ice House Comedy Club at 24 N. Mentor Ave. Cost: $15.00 – $22.00. To buy tickets go to icehousecomedy.com or call (626) 577-1894.