Celebrating Women's History

You Yes You! Project connects incarcerated dads, their children

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis woman is connecting incarcerated fathers with their children and resources with her organization, the You Yes You! Project.

Executive Director Ericka Sanders is passionate about building relationships between fathers behind bars and their children. The North Central High School graduate says it is because of the power of women helping women, that she has helped hundreds of families dealing with the journey of incarceration and parenting. 

Sanders and Dr. Kristen Dauss, the Indiana Department of Correction chief medical officer, enjoy eagerly brainstorming ways to impact the lives of incarcerated fathers and their children. 

What started in 2014 as the first daddy-daughter dance inside of an Indiana correctional facility is now a training ground to strengthen Indiana families. 

“When I followed up with the fathers who participated in that dance, there was so much more of a need, than just dancing with their daughters,” Sanders said. “The need ranged from housing to jobs to communication skills soft skills, and I was overwhelmed with the needs that they had .”

Sanders is a mother of two, a wife, and a daughter. She said it is her experiences that has helped her recognize the serious need in Indiana prisons and the complexities that were not being addressed. 

“My dad was around but he wasn’t integrated in my life. So I always understood that uneasiness that brokenness that comes with not having a father in your life,” Sanders said. “But on the other side I also know from a father’s perspective that sometimes you have all the tools to be a great dad, you just don’t know how to put them together.”

Sanders work caught the Dauss’s attention. 

“From that moment I immediately reached out to Ericka and said, ‘How can I help?’ and we had lunch. Within a week and the rest is history,” Dauss said. “You have to consider that the majority of the people who are in the Department of Correction now will be out within a year, and so what we want to do is make sure that these folks who are coming out and who will be our neighbors have the skills and the tools to be great men and women in their community. 

From 2018 to 2020, more than 60 fathers have completed the You Yes You! Project.

“You can probably quantify one father with.  I don’t know maybe four kids, right, and so maybe 30 fathers; really you’re helping like maybe 200 individuals, 200 families that you’re helping put together,” Sanders said. 

Sanders and Dauss agree they’re stronger together, which is why Dauss pushed Sanders to get in front of the commissioner. The effort was successful and resulted in more support from the Department of Corrections (DOC). 

“All the men who have participated in You Yes You! have not returned to the Department of Correction, and that is huge! That right there speaks to the power of Ericka her leadership, her team and the work that she’s doing for the Department of Correction,” Dauss said. “It’s women helping women, building these partnerships, building these relationships. You know, a lot of the work within DOC can be very tough, and having that compassionate approach. Having wonderful partners like Ericka, who understand these men and to have that vision to see them doing more and to do to do better  

Sanders touts Dauss and countless women in her life that helped get this effort to more Hoosier families.

“My entire life, especially with You Yes You! Project, has always had some woman somewhere around willing to help me; this is something that will hopefully continue when I’m no longer no longer here,” Sanders said. 

Sanders plans to continue her mission in uplifting other and creating more bonds than bondage to set more Hoosier families free. She hopes to expand the program to multiple facilities.