About OUR TIME
The OUR TIME project is a service initiative by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteering at the Vanier Centre for Women, a correctional facility in Milton, Ontario. Through OUR TIME, the women incarcerated at Vanier have the opportunity to record themselves reading to their children, giving them a chance to hear their mothers’ voices while they are apart.
OUR TIME’s Faith Community
The volunteers who run OUR TIME belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints believe in the divine inspiration of two sacred texts: the Bible and the Book of Mormon, a book that Latter-day Saints believe is the collected record of the teachings that God revealed to his prophets in the ancient Americas. The community was first organized by Joseph Smith, who published the Book of Mormon in 1830.12 Today, there are more than 16 million Latter-day Saints worldwide; in Canada, there are nearly 200,000, representing 0.5 percent of the country’s population.34
The OUR TIME program is an initiative of the Relief Society, the Latter-day Saints women’s service organization. First organized in 1842, the Relief Society has operated for nearly two centuries according to the motto “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8).5 Its mission includes “increasing personal faith and righteousness, strengthening homes and families, and seeking out and helping those in need.”6 Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically join the Relief Society when they turn eighteen. In each individual congregation, called a ward, the Relief Society is led by a president with the support of two counsellors and a secretary. Every ward belongs to a larger territory called a stake, which also has a Relief Society presidency to provide leadership to the larger group. Through the Relief Society, Latter-day Saint women participate in service projects at both a ward and stake level. The OUR TIME program was started by the Brampton Ontario Stake, and has grown to include women from the Kitchener and Hamilton Ontario Stakes.
For the volunteers who serve with OUR TIME, the program is a way of expressing some of the most basic elements of their faith. Latter-day Saints believe that every person is loved by God: “We believe that we are all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us.”7 OUR TIME is one way of demonstrating this unconditional love to the women at Vanier—treating them as valued people who deserve respect and dignity, rather than defining them by their traumas and mistakes. In addition, all people need and have access to forgiveness from God. “We teach our children from a very small age that we can always ask for forgiveness,” explains volunteer Tina Nabrotzky. “If we’ve learned that we can always go to our Heavenly Father for forgiveness, who are we to say that someone in prison can’t do the same?”8
Central to Latter-day Saints’ faith is following the example of Jesus Christ, who spent his life serving others. Indeed, OUR TIME volunteers believe that their work at Vanier is a way of serving Christ. They cite Jesus’s teaching in the Gospel of Matthew: “I was in prison and you visited me. . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:36, 40). Founding volunteer Helen Warner remarks, “We think of that [Scripture] when we go, because when we’re serving them, we’re really serving the Lord. This is exactly what he would want us to do for those women.”9
Latter-day Saints also place a high value on family, and Relief Society volunteers emphasize, along with preserving family relationships, that anything which strengthens bonds between a mother and her child is vital. “Those children deserve to have a relationship with their mother and to feel loved by their mother,” insists volunteer Stacy Cattran. “I think it’s so important to nurture that relationship, even in little ways—like the idea of them getting to hear their mom’s voice when they’re in bed at night trying to go to sleep.”10
History and Goals
OUR TIME was started in 2007 by Helen Warner, who at the time was serving in the Brampton Stake Relief Society presidency. Warner was looking for a service project for the annual Relief Society conference when she learned of a group in the United States providing books to incarcerated women so that mothers could read to their children. She reached out to the staff at Vanier to explore whether such a program would be possible there. When the Relief Society’s proposal was welcomed and the necessary arrangements made, local members gathered donations of books at their conference and sent them to the jail.