09/27/05 — Program matches mentors, children

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Program matches mentors, children

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 27, 2005 1:49 PM

For Daryl Woodard, having a successful mentoring program for youths is not just a numbers game; it's about touching lives in a personal and positive way.

Woodard is executive director of Smart Choices for Youth Inc., formerly Wayne County Youth Outreach Program. He is in the business of finding adult role models who are willing to invest time to make a difference in the life of young person.

In the last year, the opportunity expanded through a state grant specifically for mentors to work with children of prisoners. Referrals have come from an array of sources that range from social services and the school system to parents and word of mouth.

The program's intent, Woodard said, is not to so much intervention as prevention.

"These kids are not trouble-makers," he said. "We're trying to match them up because of a situation where one or both parents may be incarcerated or on parole or probation.

"They don't have to go down that road."

DeAnna Randolph, 13, is just one of his examples.

"I never got in trouble in school, never been in trouble or on probation," said the Dillard Middle School seventh-grader.

Her circumstances, however, could have brought a different outcome. Her 14-year-old stepsister died in June. Her father is headed to prison. She said she is not close to many family members and the best friend she could talk to moved to New Hampshire with family.

She ended up living with her grandmother, who enrolled DeAnna in the mentoring program.

"I was bored and everything at home," DeAnna said. "She tried to put a little happiness in my life."

DeAnna was matched with Diane Wactor, who is stationed at Seymour Johnson.

"When I first met DeAnna she wasn't smiling so much," Ms. Wactor said. "I remember her grandmother saying, 'I just want to see her smile again."

Ms. Wactor has worked a lot with children, coaching youth basketball on the base and being the mother of two sons, ages 8 and 4. She said developing a relationship with a young lady has been especially rewarding because of her own childhood.

"It brings out the kid in me," she said. "Seeing DeAnna brings back a lot of memories."

Serving as a big sister has been a good experience for both of them. DeAnna lives in a rough part of town, she said.

"I grew up around a lot of boys and to be around someone who knows how to treat herself, I know I can do it," she said.

Ms. Wactor said she tries to spend time doing wholesome activities with DeAnna, such as going to church or shopping together.

Woodard said such stories just affirm the need for programs like Smart Choices for Youth.

"That's why I'm so grateful for us being funded," he said. "There are so many young ladies that need direction. It's not just in the projects."

Juliet Broadie's two children are grown, and she has returned to college to earn a computer degree. She said she wishes there had been a program like this for her own children.

"My husband was in prison," she said, which now motivates her to reach out others who might find themselves in a similar situation. She has been matched with Zikia Coley-Hughes, a seventh-grader at Goldsboro Middle School.

"I wanted to be there to show that even though mama and daddy may be out of the house, there's somebody that wants to see them get better and be there for them."

To commemorate completing the first full year of the mentoring for children of prisoners initiative, Woodard took a group on a bus trip to Disney World in Florida. The response was impressive, he said. Of the 54 who went, he estimated that 80 percent of them had never been to the amusement park.

Woodard said he believes the residents of Wayne County have reason to be proud.

"State and federal funds went to a worthy cause," he said. "A lot have the opportunity not only to go to Disney World but to do other things around here."

Woodard said that in the 16 years he has directed the program, watching it expand and touch lives of adults as well as young people has been rewarding.

"We can't do it without the volunteers," he said. "They're really an asset to the community."

The goal for the latest program for children of prisoners is to have 60 new matches a year so that by the end of the three-year grant, 180 youths will have been matched with mentors.

For more information on becoming involved, contact Smart Choices for Youth at 735-0008.