Strauss Foundation award recognizes student’s work with families affected by incarceration

Matt Sioson holds a collection of children's books
Matt Sioson says the new funding from the Strauss Foundation will help to continue operation of the Walls to Bridges Book Project and allow him to reach more families.

Legal studies undergraduate Matt Sioson recently won $15,000 in funding from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation in support of his work sending books to children with incarcerated family members.

Sioson works with Walls to Bridges, an organization founded and operated by UC Santa Cruz students and graduates. He currently serves as director of the Walls to Bridges Book Project, leading a team of 15 student volunteers to wrap children’s books with a nice card, a bow, and stickers. These gifts are then sent to system-impacted children on their birthdays on behalf of an incarcerated family member.

"Most of the incarcerated participants in this project are fathers who send books to their children, but we also serve other family members, like brothers, uncles, and even grandfathers,” Sioson said. “What seems like a small gesture of gifting a book can mean the world to a child."

Since the Book Project’s founding, it has sent more than 1,000 books to 400 children, and it continues to receive requests from across the state. The Book Project ultimately aims to help families retain a sense of connection while also getting kids interested in reading from an early age.

"I love reading, and I grew up in a Filipino household, which really emphasized the importance of family, so the Book Project has always struck a chord with me and has been a joy to run," Sioson said.

There is no cost to families for participating in the program, and all of the books that children receive are of like-new quality, donated by community members or bookshop partners.

The Book Project’s work has become increasingly urgent during the pandemic, since visiting rooms across California Prisons have been closed and phone calls home have also been limited. Sioson says the new funding from the Strauss Foundation will help to continue operation of the program and allow him to reach more families. 

“This project is special because it maximizes positive impact with small actions; this keeps necessary funding low while reaching as many children as possible,” Sioson said. “We are always looking for donations to help run the project, and this award will go a long way. My team and I are grateful to the Strauss Foundation for giving us the funding and guidance to continue to support system-impacted families.” 

The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, established as a memorial to the late Don Strauss of Newport Beach, awards scholarships to as many as 15 California college sophomores and juniors annually to carry out student-proposed public-service projects in their junior or senior year. Sioson was one of 14 scholars selected this year among recipients recognized for extensive records of community and public service, and a demonstrated desire to “make a difference.”