LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The 50 Christmases event starts with a simple but meaningful set up familiar to most families: a couch, Christmas tree and the presents underneath. But that’s not even the most valuable part of the experience.
The real value is measured in loving embraces, a broad smile and tears of joy.
"It's a blessing. It feels like a dream,” said Robert Owens. “It's like the best Christmas I ever had!”
Owens hasn't seen his three-year-old son Raedyn in two-and-a-half years. Raedyn and the rest of his family live in Bakersfield, while Robert is in a prison re-entry program in Las Vegas.
“It's special to me right now. I'm very happy,” said Owens. “My family came from out of state all the way here for this. And I want to thank Jon Ponder for helping me out with getting my family out here."
Hundreds of volunteers worked to pull off the magic of a family Christmas inside The Crossing Church.
"This is one of the ways that we can serve in that re-entry process,“ said Pastor Shane Philip. “That not only will they have a place to worship. but we want to help them find a place to serve. And a place that they can begin to use their gifts again.”
HOPE for Prisoners founder and CEO Jon Ponder says re-connecting families after incarceration is as crucial as connecting former inmates with jobs and housing.
"What has been a missed mark in re-entry has been that family reunification piece,” said Ponder. “Making sure that we fully understand that men and women are returning back home to wives and husbands. And particularly getting reintegrated with their children. So, we want to make sure that transition is as successful as it possibly can be."
For Owens the night was a glimpse into the future he's worked toward.
"Bringing the whole family together and starting a whole fresh new start in the Las Vegas area,” he said. “I'm planning on bringing them out here to start a whole new life."