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Conversations with Judith Dullnig

Today we’d like to introduce you to Judith Dullnig.

Hi Judith, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Women’s Storybook Project is a non-profit that connects children with their incarcerated mothers through the joy of literature. I started the program with five volunteers, four tape recorders and 25 books traveling to one Texas female prison. Today we have about 240 volunteers, and we provide the program in ten Texas female units. Among many other things, I’m proud that WSP has kept up with technology over the years: beginning with cassettes and tape recorders, receiving permission from Texas Department of Criminal Justice to record on laptops and burn CDs and today the moms can choose to record given a URL number. Until two years ago, this was a volunteer project with one part time staffer. Although we record moms in Texas female prisons, packages are sent throughout the country.  In 2019, recordings and books were mailed to children in 36 states.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I intentionally built the program slowly, adding units and developing relationships with criminal justice administrators. There is always a challenge of adding volunteers, but we do have a very loyal volunteer base. Since I was wearing many hats without previous experience of developing a non-profit, I regret not have kept more accurate data. We didn’t have a database when the program started and there aren’t complete records of WSP history.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Prior to starting Women’s Storybook Project, I was active in fundraising events for my children’s schools and the Atlanta and Austin Symphonies. I did have a small business, trunk shows with jewelry from Bali and fine Italian linens. Once I started Women’s Storybook Project, I wanted to devote my time developing this non-profit and giving back in a very meaningful way. When I heard about a program from friends in Louisville, KY which was recording moms in the local jail, it tugged at my heart; and I brought the idea back to Austin. I connected with a social worker within a prison in Texas, and we designed a program where moms could read for their children, sending the book/story and the recording to the children. It’s a win-win-win project: the child hears the mom’s voice; the mother’s self-esteem improves because she’s doing something positive for her child, and the behavior at the prison improves as this is a merit-based program. This is an award winning program, receiving acknowledgment early in the program from the National Crime Prevention Council. The best reward for me is receiving many letters from children and caregivers. We will be having a 2nd virtual luncheon on April 29th and we’ll have a mother and her son, now a junior in college, give testimonials about our program.

How do you think about luck?
I think I’ve been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, and to be a vehicle to help connect this neglected population with their moms.

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