Light spilled out of the doors of Our Lady of Lourdes’ parish center in Northridge in the predawn darkness, welcoming nine local families who would soon be on their way to visit incarcerated mothers at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.The San Fernando Valley participants in the Get On The Bus program started arriving at 4:30 a.m. to eat breakfast as they waited for Bus S coming from St. Denis in Diamond Bar with five families and volunteers. Their bus, with combined passengers numbering approximately 50 children, caregivers and volunteers from three parishes, would be one of 12 going to Chowchilla on May 10 from around the state bringing minors and their guardians to visit their moms on Mother’s Day weekend. Sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Restorative Justice Works based in North Hollywood, Get On The Bus offers free transportation for children and their caregivers once a year around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to prisons where their moms and dads are incarcerated. For many, this is their only opportunity to visit their imprisoned parent.James Franco, 9, accompanied by his grandmother, was eagerly anticipating his visit with his mother, whom he hadn’t seen since his Get On The Bus ride last year. “It’s fun going to see my mom, just to be with her,” said Franco. “We get to play games and eat with her, and I get a free backpack” brimming with activities, snacks, and comfort items, including a handmade blanket donated by Shepherd of the Hills Blanket Ministry and a handmade pillow supplied by a member of St. John Eudes Spanish Ministry.St. John Eudes has been involved with Get On The Bus ever since Mary Lou Vanderlip and her husband, Bob, became volunteer coordinators of Bus S four years ago. “I saw such a great need, and after the first year of being one of the coordinators on the bus, I’ve just been locked into it,” said Bob, whose wife had traveled the day before to Chowchilla to help prepare the activities, including face-painting, games, photographs with the moms and a big lunch.Our Lady of Lourdes joined Get On The Bus this year, with the blessing of Father David Loftus, pastor, and longtime parishioners Lali and Dan Revetto, a couple in the deacon formation program. St. John Eudes and Our Lady of Lourdes each raised more than $4,000 to help defray the cost of the bus and other expenses. St. Denis collected about $2,000 for Bus S.“Get On The Bus really appealed to me because this year [in deacon formation] we’re studying restorative justice and prison ministry,” said Dan Revetto, who helped coordinate the breakfast and arranged for members of the parish confirmation class to create “Stay Connected” bags planned for distribution when the bus returned to Our Lady of Lourdes around 7:30 p.m. Each bag contained a frame for the children to insert the photo taken during the day as well as envelopes, stamps, pens and stickers to facilitate correspondence with their moms.“I think it’s so important that kids get that connection with their [incarcerated] moms,” said volunteer John Jimenez, a retired police officer who left Palm Springs at 2:15 a.m. where he had been on business to arrive in time at Our Lady of Lourdes to accompany the bus riders, scheduled to depart at 5:30 a.m. for the four-hour trip.Lazette Velasco, 20, riding the bus for the second year in a row, was looking forward to spending time with her mom, accompanied by her grandmother Sandra Gutierrez. Last year’s ride was the first time Velasco had seen her mother in six years.“I think it’s a good organization because families who can’t afford to actually get out there on their own can, with Get On The Bus, see their family members,” said Velasco. “I like it; it’s fun and a good way to meet new people.”Steve Johnson would be visiting his wife, accompanied by her son Allan Davis, 20. “The experience I get to have with my mother is different,” noted Davis. “The first time I saw her was through glass, and now I get to have physical contact, and we don’t have a time limit. You can have a full experience of a Mother’s Day with her.”“Every child needs to be cuddled and be with the mother, especially on Mother’s Day,” said Elizabeth Fan, Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women president and St. Denis parishioner who has supported Get On The Bus since its inception at her parish. “As a mom myself, I can’t imagine not being able to hold my child in my arms at night and not seeing my child when she gets up in the morning.“I don’t know what the circumstances are for all these women to be incarcerated, regardless, they are still their mothers, so this is definitely very worthwhile,” said Fan, before she boarded the bus as dawn was just breaking.For more information on Get On The Bus, preparing for Father’s Day visits in June, log on to or call (818) 980-7714 ext. 11.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0517/sfgotb/{/gallery}