11/28/04 — Mentoring group enlists support from churches

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Mentoring group enlists support from churches

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 28, 2004 2:05 AM

A Wayne County mentor program is asking churches to expand their walls and reach out to children whose parents are in prison.

The Wayne County Youth Outreach Program held a meeting with church representatives Tuesday to discuss ways to support youths in need. Daryl Woodard, executive director of the program, said community groups have long supported the mentor program, but churches are an untapped market.

"We feel strongly that this is something the faith community can do," he said. "We wanted to see what we could do to yoke up with them."

In August, the program received a $300,000 grant for three years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It will serve children of parents who are incarcerated or who are on probation or parole in Wayne and surrounding counties.

Youth are referred by churches, schools, counselors and parents, Woodard said. Mentors are expected to spend at least one hour a week with a matched child for one year.

Woodard said that identifying those who would benefit from the service is not easy because of the stigma of having a parent in prison. Churches could play a critical role in outreach once the youths are identified, he said.

Tracy Moore, Americorps Fellow with Youth Outreach, has been speaking to churches and community groups about the importance of becoming a mentor.

She said the core need for those from 7 to 17 years old is for "role models -- responsible adults in their lives to help them."

Representatives from 15 churches attended Tuesday's meeting at the Wayne County Public Library. Woodard said he hopes more will respond.

Yelta Hucks, program director of the Governor's One-On-One program, said the feedback from those who attended was positive.

"A lot of the representatives there were interested in some sort of prison ministry," she said. "But somehow they had never thought about the children that are left behind.

"They may not see these parents for five or six years."

The first step is to spread the word among the congregations.

"Every church will have their own plan of attack as to how to get their church members involved," she said.

Woodard, who has seen the need for mentors grow over the 15 years since the program began, said that involving churches will enhance the lives of the youth as well as the churches' missions.

"If there could be some form of a collaboration where (denomination) is put aside and the main concern is mentoring the children," Ms. Hucks said, "that should be the common goal for every church."