01/23/08 — Mentors needed for children with parents in prison

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Mentors needed for children with parents in prison

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 23, 2008 1:59 PM

Dr. Wilson Goode knows what it's like to have a parent who goes to prison. He was a teenager when that happened to him.

But he also knows what it's like to have a mentor who believes in you. That experience led Goode to start a program that helps young people who are in the same situation he found himself in.

He described the program "Amachi," to about 60 people attending a conference held by Smart Choices for Youth on Tuesday at the Lane Tree Golf Club.

As a former mayor of Philadelphia, Goode recruited church members all over the city to mentor children of incarcerated parents. He named the program "Amachi," which is Nigerian for "Who knows what God has brought us through this child?" He said a tribe in Africa uses as its greeting the words "How are the children?"

Attendees were volunteers and professionals involved in programs to help young people. They came from acaross the state to learn more about the program. Several said they, too, had mentors when they were teenagers.

Goode was the first black mayor of Philadelphia. His program was the first of its kind in the nation to be federally funded and gained international renown.

As the teenage son of a parent in prison, he moved from North Carolina with the rest of his family to Philadelphia.

Goode's new school counselor placed him in the industrial program and told him to not even think about college.

"She refused to give me applications to go to college," he said. "But it was my pastor who told me I could be anything I wanted to be."

The pastor gave Goode money and sent him to Morgan State University where he earned a bachelor's degree. He went on to earn a master's degree, then a doctorate.

He urged those in attendance to continue their work with young people at risk and said more people need to step up and help.

"I know those who have a parent in prison can be transformed by someone in their life," he said. "The difference in my life was a pastor and his wife. They stepped up at a critical point and transformed my life. Who knows what God will bring us through these children we seek to help?"

Goode said research has shown that 2.1 million children living in the U.S. have a parent who is incarcerated. When you add those who have a parent on probation or parole, that number becomes 7.3 million. And when you add the children who have a parent in a local jail, that number becomes 10.7 million.

In North Carolina, the statistics show 40,000 children have a parent who is prison, and there's a good chance those youngsters will go to prison, too, when they grow up.

Another study showed that a child who spends at least one hour a week with a mentor will improve grades. Two thirds of these children will attend school more regularly, and their behavior will improve. And 90 percent will form relationships that are stronger than they were before having a mentor in their lives.

"This movement is to try and rescue these children, intervene in their lives and turn their lives around so they can go to college and not to prison," Goode said. "Transformation starts with a relationship."

Pastors and clergy have known about how relationships foster transformation in people's lives, said Goode, who became a minister after his tenure as mayor of Philadelphia.

And as a minister, he continues promoting the mentoring program for children whose parents are in prison. He said he loves what he is doing so much he would be willing to pay to be able to do it.