Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:41

Dorn: Mentoring: caring adults and safe places

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11:00 PM, Oct. 22, 2011 |
Jeffrey Dorn, Director of Shapes Mentoring Program in Missouri
Jeffrey Dorn
Tom had only been mentoring for a few short weeks and was already convinced that he was a failure. He felt this way because his mentee fell asleep in the car the moment he got picked up for this weekly outing. Tom assumed that his mentee, Robert, was bored with him and was really not interested in "hanging out" with him.

Upon some inquiries from program staff it was determined that Robert's sleeping was, in fact, not a result of boredom, but because he was in a place he felt safe.

Robert, age 5, was a mentee in the Shapes Mentoring Program. Shapes provides caring adult mentors to children of inmates living in southwest Missouri. Robert was one of these children. His father was in a Missouri prison, partially due to the fact that he abused his children.

The father would come home late at night. He would typically be intoxicated and he would enter Robert's room and hit him. Robert had learned that it was not safe to sleep through the night. Even though dad was no longer in the home, Robert's sleep patterns were still affected.

Why was Robert sleeping in Tom's car? Because he felt safe with Tom. He knew that Tom was there for him, to be a friend, confidant and mentor.

Throughout the United States there are approximately 2.7 million children who have a parent in prison.

Mentoring Children of Prisoners programs, like the Shapes Mentoring Program, exist to help these children connect with caring adults. These adults commit to hang out with their mentees for at least one hour per week for one year. By doing so they provide the child with a safe place and time each week to let down their guard and be a kid.

Children of prisoners experience a number of risk factors as a result of their situation. Many of the children and families live at or below the poverty level. The children deal with the stigma that comes with being a child of a prisoner as other kids at school become aware of the situation.

Some public schoolteachers, day care workers and even Sunday school teachers and other church staff write off these families because of what the parent has done.

With all of this stacked against them it is no surprise that 70 percent of these children are expected to end up incarcerated themselves in the future.

Mentors from programs like the Shapes Mentoring Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks (BBBS) work hard to assure these children that they are still loved and respected by people in the community. With approximately 1,000 children of prisoners living in southwest Missouri the need for mentors is great.

Programs like Shapes and BBBS are always looking for those willing to volunteer and to help fund these vital programs.

By partnering with these programs the community can provide a caring adult and a safe place for each child of a prisoner in our community.

Jeffrey B. Dorn is program director of Shapes Mentoring Program.

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