08/23/04 — Grant awarded to help prisoners' children

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Grant awarded to help prisoners' children

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 23, 2004 2:00 PM

A federal grant to help provide mentors for children of prisoners has been awarded to the Wayne County Youth Outreach Program.

The three-year grant, worth $300,000, is provided through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families. The Wayne County program was one of five chosen in North Carolina.

Earlier this month, President Bush announced that $45.6 million in grants would be used for this purpose. Out of 581 applications received across the country, only 26 percent were funded.

Daryl Woodard, executive director of Wayne County Youth Outreach, said the grant supported his organization's central mission of being a mentor program.

"As we have gone through the past almost 15 years, we have seen how there's a trickle-down effect," he said. "If a child has a parent that is gone, that's one income that's gone, one pair of eyes that's gone.

"It trickles down in economic and social effects."

The idea of mentoring is not to replace the mother or father who is incarcerated, he said, but to offer a consistent friend. The age group targeted will be between 5 and 15.

"We can now reach down to kindergarten and pre-kindergarten and work with these kids and provide mentors for them and address their more vital needs, emotional and spiritual support," he said. "It give us more ammunition to try to make a difference in the lives of young people."

Wayne County is unique, he said, in that it has five jails. In addition to the county jail, there is Neuse Correctional, Wayne Correctional, the DART program, and the federal prison on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Children of parents released from prison or on parole will also be served under the grant, he said, as well as those whose parents are imprisoned elsewhere.

He said it would be difficult to determine the number of young people in need of the services, so he plans to seek help from such agencies as Social Services, juvenile services, and the school system.

The grant is designed to serve at least 60 children a year, or a total of 180 over the three-year period. It may be difficult to accommodate every child in that situation, Woodard said, but it will help close some of the gaps.

"A lot of kids are slipping through the cracks and have a void at home," he said. "We need to do everything we can to try to help them out."

He said he hopes the grant will be an incentive for others to rally around the cause.

"We're all accountable for our own actions," he said. "If a parent has to go to prison for whatever reason, we're dealing with the child. We have to be there for the child who happens to have a parent in prison."

He hopes churches will get on board. He said he has already heard from several pastors.

"The last thing that people think of is the children of these prisoners," Woodard said. "We always hear about people going to the prisons and ministering to the prisoners, but who's ministering to the child?

"Those children need help."

The grant goes into effect Oct. 1. There are plans to hire a director of the program, and training will be provided for volunteers.

Woodard said he looks forward to starting the program, but cautioned against anyone becoming a mentor out of pity.

"We want them to do it because they see the need," he said. "That's really the focus, trying to help children who can benefit from your time.

"They need encouragement, they need somebody that's strong, that can pray for them, take them by the hand and say, 'We can do this together.'"

He said he is grateful for the chance to expand the outreach programs and support those who are in a challenging situation.

"Anybody that has ever applied for a federal grant knows that it's a very competitive process," he said. "They obviously saw the need here and are giving us an opportunity to make a difference in the community."

The grant is also a nice pat on the back for the outreach program, which suffered some setbacks in May when its home, the Community Building, burned down.

"Since the fire, we have been funded two grants," Woodard said. "That has let me know that you have to be encouraged yourself.

"The same spirit that we have had to overcome the obstacles that we have had, we're going to use to encourage the volunteers and people that will assist with this grant."

He asked that any individuals, churches or civic groups interested in helping the mentor program call his office at 735-0008 or visit the new location on the second floor of the Centura Bank at 201 E. Ash St.