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Perry in Dallas to launch mentoring program

By Kimberly Durnan
Dallas Morning News
March 9, 2006

Texas will spend nearly $3.8 million to launch a program that matches adult mentors with the children of its prisoners as a way to end the generational cycle of incarceration, Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday.

Called Amachi Texas, the program will pair trained adults with 1,300 children. Mentors usually come from the child’s neighborhood and are expected to meet weekly with the child.

"No child should be held captive by the influence of drugs, alcohol and crime, or sentenced to a lifetime of failure because of the mistakes of a parent," Perry said in announcing the program at the Meadows Foundation in Dallas. "We must end the cultural tragedy of children meeting their parents and grandparents for the first time in prison."

The Texas program will create a public/private union combining efforts of the governor’s office, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the OneStar Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization Perry created in January 2004 to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism.

The Amachi program began five years ago in Philadelphia under the leadership of former mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. and has spread throughout the United States. "Amachi" is a word of Nigerian dialect that means "Who knows but what God has brought us through this child."

Just 14 when his father was incarcerated, Goode said a school counselor told him he wasn’t college material, but his minister encouraged him to achieve his dreams. He later went on to earn a doctorate degree and become a minister himself.

Goode said studies show at-risk children involved in a mentoring program improve their grades and behavior.

"You have to give the children hope," Goode said. "Who knows what God can bring us through these incredible children."

The program will focus on children ages 6 to 14 who come recommended from churches, schools, caregivers and parents in prison.

T. Charles Pierson, chief executive for Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, said he mentors a boy whose father is serving a life prison sentence.

"His grades have improved to all A’s and B’s and one C," Pierson said. "He used to get called to the principal’s office for fighting and now he’s playing basketball and football. He’s talking about college and things that three years ago weren’t in his vocabulary."

Amachi has 1,087 affiliated programs throughout the nation and partners with more than 1,000 churches. The group estimates that 7.3 million children have at least one parent imprisoned and, without intervention, 70 percent of them will follow the same path.

Interested volunteers should contact their local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization for details.