The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” has definitely been overused, but I believe it’s still relevant. Reflect a moment on your own upbringing to recall all those you turned to when you needed support or advice. It may have been a coach, a teacher, a friend or a grandparent, but more often I’ll bet a parent was your primary go-to. Sadly, 1 in 55 adults in Louisiana is serving time in prison, meaning thousands of children are growing up with at least one parent unable to be actively involved in their lives. In response to this epidemic, Volunteers of America developed the Mentoring Children of Promise program to provide stable relationships with caring adults to children of incarcerated parents – once again proving the necessity and value of the “village”.
“I know he’s supportive and he’s there for me, but he’s not physically there,” says teenager Reign, whose father is serving time at Angola State Penitentiary. Reign and her sister Region were paired with Dominique, a Mentoring Children of Promise volunteer, and have developed a strong bond with her over the last year. Dominique’s father is also at Angola, giving her the unique understanding of the emotional struggles the girls face as they deal with the heartbreak of their absent father.
Mentors such as Dominique don’t replace a parent but they’re able to provide a positive role model through their support, guidance and friendship that may ease some of the fear, anger and sadness the youth experience. “She listens to what we have to say and gives us a different perspective,” says Reign.
Matched with children ages 4 to 18 through collaboration with over 20 community organizations and Volunteers
of America, mentors are generous individuals who care about young people and want to make a difference in the lives of at-risk local youth. Following interviews, orientations and trainings, mentors make a minimum one year commitment to spend time with their mentee for at least eight hours a month, but 40 percent of relationships continue much longer than required.
Bashon, a previously troubled teenager in the program, says, “I enjoy hanging out with my mentor. He has been more than a volunteer; he has been my friend and now a part of my family as a big brother. I look up to my mentor because he cares for me … he has made a difference in my life for the past three years.” By modeling their own good character, emotional stability and responsible lifestyle, adult mentors are capable of positively encouraging the youth they mentor to grow in developing their own life-skills of self-esteem, academic success and moral values.
Nationally, 70 percent of the children with a parent in prison will one day find themselves behind bars. This disturbing statistic combined with the sky high adult incarceration figures for Louisiana only reinforce the dire need for intervention programs such as these. Innocent children in need of a dependable, trusting relationship deserve hope they can break the cycle, and Volunteers of America’s Mentoring Children of Promise initiative is making that happen.
A LITTLE MORE…
Louisiana is 2nd in the nation in the number of people incarcerated per capita.
Almost a third (31.5%) of Louisiana’s adult inmate population and almost half (41.3%) of the juvenile inmate population come from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.
97% of children under 12 state they enjoy spending time with their mentor. 98% of teenagers state that the mentor is making a positive influence in their life.
For more information or to become a mentor, call Program Manager Sherlyn Hughes at 836-8701