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GO KIDS Articles

Making mentoring opportunities happen for at-risk youth

by Christina Melton Crain

In March, Gov. Rick Perry announced a $3.78 million grant to launch Amachi Texas, which uses faith-based and secular partners to match children of offenders with adult role models. “Amachi” is a word of Nigerian dialect that means, “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.”

The Amachi program began five years ago in Philadelphia, under the leadership of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr. It has since spread to various communities throughout the United States.

Amachi Texas is a public-private effort between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Office of the Governor, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of North Texas, and the OneStar Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by governor in 2004 to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism.. It is the first initiative to take the Amachi program to a statewide level.

The program will focus on children ages 6 to 14 who come recommended from churches, schools, caregivers and parents in prison. It will initially mentor 1,300 children who have incarcerated parents, building an infrastructure across the State to reach thousands more in the future.

BBBS of North Texas will serve as the program director and service delivery providers for Amachi Texas. They will enroll, screen, and train mentors; offer referral and counseling to families of children; provide on-going support for mentor/child relationships; as well as, evaluate and report on program activities.

The OneStar Foundation will connect BBBS of North Texas with various faith-based and related organizations that can support the program through the recruitment of volunteer mentors and the referral of children. TDCJ will make offenders under their supervision aware of the Amachi program and the availability of mentoring services. For those offenders who participate voluntarily, TDCJ will help link them with the resources available in their family’s community.

Recent findings by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. This is alarming considering there are an estimated 2.4 million children affected by the nearly 1.5 million parents incarcerated in prison and jail.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, the Bureau of Justice reports there are about 70,000 children that have an incarcerated parent. Programs, such as Amachi Texas, will address these children’s specific needs and make a difference in the potentially negative direction of their lives.

Also recognizing the vital role all family members can play in the life of a child, TDCJ launched an initiative in 2004, called “GO KIDS,” which stands for Giving Offenders’ Kids the Incentive and Direction to Succeed. [Editor’s Note: The GO KIDS initiative was introduced in the September 2005 edition of Headnotes in an article “Breaking the Cycle: Equipping the Children of Offenders,” by Christina Melton Crain.]

GO KIDS is designed to identify and coordinate resources that strengthen the parent-child relationship and target positive youth development. Accessible through the TDCJ Web site (www.tdcj.texas.gov), GO KIDS resource lists provide a reliable connection to community services that can assist and serve offender families, in particular their children.

In addition to BBBS of North Texas and Amachi, GO KIDS is also working in collaboration with No More Victims, Inc., KICKSTART, and the West Texas Boys Ranch.

No More Victims, Inc., out of Houston, addresses the deterrence of violent, abusive and victimizing behavior, with a special focus on parent-child relationships. KICKSTART, implemented by the legendary Chuck Norris, currently serves the Dallas and Houston areas and encourages students to resolve conflicts productively and make correct life choices through the values and philosophies taught through Martial Arts. The West Texas Boys Ranch, in San Angelo, offers guidance, structure and opportunities to young men through a family-based program and Christian environment. Additional information on each of these organizations is available through the GO KIDS Web site.

The participation in Amachi Texas, with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the OneStar Foundation is a logical connection for TDCJ. It is consistent with the GO KIDS mission and it facilitates further avenues for offenders and offender families to better access community resources, which in this case involves mentoring services for children of incarcerated parents.

By serving one of the most at-risk populations in our society, programs such as Amachi Texas and GO KIDS will make great strides in helping to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration in turn providing a better future for all Texans.

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In addition to serving as Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, Christina Melton Crain specializes in children/juvenile representation, ad litem representation and mediation. She also serves as vice president (administrative) of the DBA.