Stamping Out Despair: Guttman Students Find Meaning in Service Learning Activity



April 26, 2018 | Community Days, Community Service, Student Engagement

Student write letters in different languages to the detainees.


Imagine being held in immigrant detention and having no way to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility?

On April 24, 150 students led by Rebecca Walker, Professor of Mathematics, and April Burns, Assistant Professor of Psychology, partnered with First Friends of New Jersey and New York to create and assemble 400 writing packets as part of the Stamp Out Despair campaign the agency runs several times a year. This campaign focuses on providing writing packets to individuals and families in detention centers who have limited resources to communicate with members of their families and friends.

This Community Days activity day began with a presentation by Ken Boccino, a First Friends board member. He who gave a short talk to help students better understand the current system of immigrant detention and to explain how First Friends works to uphold the inherent dignity and humanity of detained immigrants and asylum seekers.

After the presentation, the students and faculty began work on assembling the writing packets. Each packet included paper, stamped envelopes, greeting cards, note cards and a pen; items people in detention have a hard time obtaining on their own. In addition, the students wrote personal notes of encouragement (in a variety of languages) that were included in each packet.  Some of the notes were written on cards designed by Guttman students.

The personal messages included things such as: “No matter what society or the government says it doesn’t matter. You belong here, because you’re a human being. You are one of us.” (Victoria) or “Que Dios este con ustedes . Lo deseo lo mejor. Ojala pronto salga. Lo importante es que este con buen salud y viva. Que este sano y salvo en su camino.” (Salma)

The packets will be distributed by First Friends in June. The writing packets are distributed twice a year to more than 2,000 people held in immigrant detention centers throughout the greater New York area.

Students assemble the writing packets for the detainees.