“We believe that education is the ticket for every child.”
This was an important concept that Sari Waxler, the Seedling Foundation’s Executive Director, emphasized during her recent presentation at the Texas Office of the Attorney General.
It explains why Seedling’s Mentor Program is consciously a school-based mentoring program: Mentoring a child in their usual school setting allows them to be comfortable, encourages attendance, and helps to emphasize the importance of education in their development.
Seedling has found that interacting with children in an already familiar setting, their school, allows everyone to be more comfortable with one another. It also ensures that the child does not miss any class time, as the mentoring sessions take place during the child’s lunch. When a mentee has a healthy relationship with their mentor, they want to come to school so that they don’t miss their time with them. Presence can equate to learning opportunities, which helps both their educational and social development.
An important concept brought up during discussion at the presentation was the issue of the “conspiracy of silence”.
This phrase describes the unwillingness of children to talk openly about parental incarceration, and the unwillingness of others to listen. It is a situation that makes identifying many children in need difficult, as many people don’t hear about the issue from the perspective of the child. Parental incarceration is not something you can read on a child’s face, nor do many children want to talk about it directly. Subsequently, it doesn’t carry with it the same expectation of community support and reliance as other types of parental loss, like divorce or death. In those cases there is less of a stigma that the child carries with them, and support from friends and family is more readily available.
A child is often indirectly punished when his or her parent is arrested, since there is no societal, or in some cases, legal, recognition of the child’s needs. The child is totally blameless, yet circumstances often force our young people to “do time while their parent does time.”
Part of what the Seedling Foundation, and mentor relationships in general, aims to do is to provide children with a safe and reliable outlet to discuss this issue that is not generally discussed. They do not need to hide, feel ashamed, or carry the burden of their parent’s actions when they are talking with their Seedling’s Promise mentor.
Additionally, every Seedling mentor becomes an informed advocate for these children, whose voices are often silent. Each of them have circles of peers, friends and family that they can introduce to the issue of parental incarceration, and each informed person will bring us another step closer to broadened awareness of the issue.
Meaningful mentoring breaks the “conspiracy of silence,” and as one of our mentees put it so eloquently, “I turned from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly!”
~Adrian Smith, Seedling Mentor Program Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator