Helping families stay connected
Psy.D. student helps fathers who are in prison strengthen their parenting relationships
When Thalia Bishop moved to Baltimore to pursue her Doctorate of Psychology at Loyola in 2014, she also wanted to find a way to serve marginalized communities. And she was particularly interested in finding a way to work with individuals and families who are impacted by incarceration.
Then two friends separately sent her information about Hope House D.C., an organization that offers programs focused on strengthening the relationships between children and their fathers who are imprisoned.
“I went to meet with them, and I was in,” said Bishop, who was immediately drawn to the work and mission of Hope House.
Bishop started by volunteering for a Hope House program that offers “Father to Child Summer Camps” for incarcerated men and their children. The camp started on Father’s Day as the dads performed a show for their children. Throughout the week that followed, the children visited their fathers and each other and created huge murals together. On the final day of camp, the children presented a show for their dads.
“It was amazing,” Bishop said. “This is an incredible opportunity for the kids to spend this time with their fathers.”
After her first year as a volunteer, Bishop was asked to be the camp director, a role she has filled for three years.
In addition to the camp, Bishop travels to the facility in Cumberland, Md., to meet with the fathers every week. They pick a new topic to discuss each week, and she brings related articles and YouTube videos. The fathers then formulate questions she can email to the children with the videos, and the fathers and children have discussions about the topics throughout the week.
“We talk about decision-making, self-esteem, anger management, peer pressure, drugs, and the recent events in Charlottesville and Las Vegas. We have talked about racism and how kids can have conversations with their parents. It’s been really interesting. Even just seeing the topics the dads picked during the first round, you could definitely see they were pushing a little further to have more difficult conversations.”
Last fall Bishop facilitated a new Hope House program called the College Challenge, to help high school students navigate the college application process.
“Often Carol Fennelly, founder and executive director, will have an idea and think, ‘Why not? Let’s try it and we work together to make it happen,’” she said. “I’m hoping these students will learn from this program that they’re not alone, that they don’t have to figure this out by themselves, and also that college is possible. This is the road that you’ll take. You have the way to make this happen.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bishop moved to Silver Spring, Md., in 2005. Incarceration is an issue that speaks to her personally.
“Growing up being black, as a person of color, I have been just thinking about how incarceration has impacted that community. I have been asking myself, ‘What part can I play to help things go better?’” she said. “Entire families are impacted when these things happen. And that piece is important to me. When somebody is incarcerated, we can help them think about how they can maintain their parenting relationship—and it’s more motivation for them for not to get in trouble again.”
After earning a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Finance from Brooklyn College and her Master’s in Business Administration from Baruch College, Bishop worked in banking before she decided to change careers and study psychology. She enrolled at Catholic University of America for her Master’s in General Psychology. Today at Loyola, she is a full-time student in the Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology program, which she will complete in May 2019.
“When I came to Loyola, I heard so much about the Jesuit values,” she said. “The ideal of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, really resonates with me… recognizing that there is so much more to each person.”
Bishop feels the education she’s receiving in the classroom is offering her a good foundation, but the experience extends beyond that.
“When I think about my Loyola education, I think about my professors, my mentors, and that is where I’ve gotten the most valuable connections, especially having professors who are working with marginalized communities or people of color,” she said. “I’ve received my Loyola education, but I’ve gotten this extra connection to a few exceptional professors and mentors.”