Seedling Foundation was approached by several Austin public school Principals who presented a problem in common to our founder, John Blazier. They were dealing with students who were across the board in the scope of their problems; discipline referrals, truancy, teen pregnancy and vandalism, and the one thing they all had in common was the prison system.
It had affected their lives dramatically by the removal of one or both parents and when children lose parents to the system, they often lose their homes and much of the stability in their young lives.
There is no identification program in public schools for these children, and they often do not surface as having this tremendous trauma and challenge in their lives until they do something wrong. Even then, accustomed to hiding this shame as they are, no school official might ever know. Our challenges were to find them in order to help them, and then to recruit, educate and support mentors who could form long, lasting and constructive relationships.
How could we do this when national mentoring agencies often have challenges identifying these at-risk children?
We turned to the very people who had asked us for help. Seedling Foundation formed a wonderful partnership with the Austin Independent School District and their Counseling and Parent Support Specialist staff.
In the beginning, the school contacts did most of the identification and referring to the Seedling Mentor Program, but over time the students started self-referring. They wanted their brothers and sisters and friends in similar situations to have a mentor like theirs. The program grew by leaps and bounds.
How is the Seedling Mentor Program a new paradigm?
We focus on the mentors. The students are given mentors through their schools, with the approval of their legal guardians/caregivers, and the relationship looks the same as any other mentoring program in the school…from the student’s side. If the student does not want to reveal or talk about their situation to their mentor, they do not have to. However, the mentor is specially trained and more importantly, highly supported in the match and is therefore comfortable with that discussion when it arises. The mentor is also prepared to handle issues that often arise with children of the incarcerated as their parent(s) deal with the prison system.
A saying you will often hear in this area of mentoring is, “When parents do time, their kids do time with them.”
As you read these blog posts, we hope to give you information you can use and a feel for what a mentor can do for a child. It is often a life changing experience for both.
–Kali’ P. Rourke, Seedling Foundation Board President 2010