Once a week, 6-year-old Tyreese Winfrey gets together with 35-year-old Anthony Foster just to hang out. They play football in the park. They attend church. They went to see “Horton Hears a Who!”
Tyreese’s mom, Lori Winfrey, signed up her son and her daughter, 11-year-old Tiahanna, for mentoring after the children’s father went to prison. In just a month, Foster said he’s seen the boy become less shy, talking more and cracking jokes. Foster’s fiancée mentors Tyreese’s sister.
“You come in with a heart for serving and a heart for caring,” Foster said. “We’re showing them there are people that care.”
The two children are among an estimated 27,000 statewide with at least one parent in prison. Research shows these children are four to seven times more likely than their peers to enter the criminal justice system.
A new federally funded program called Caregiver’s Choice hopes to boost the number of those children involved in mentoring relationships. The program encourages the children’s caregivers to seek out mentoring relationships through certified agencies, and rewards agencies with up to $1,000 depending on how long each relationship lasts.
Foster works with Goodwill Industries in Spokane, which, in conjunction with Educational Service District 101, has created 120 mentoring matches for children of incarcerated parents.
Kristy Stender-Bratcher, project manager for ESD 101’s mentoring program, said the agency spends up to $3,000 making and sustaining a match for a year. She said the Caregiver’s Choice funding would help make and keep more matches.
Stender-Bratcher also mentors Faith Cook, who was only 10 months old when her mother went to prison and she went to live with her grandfather. Cook, who’s now 9, said her favorite part of spending time with Stender-Bratcher is “going places,” and “playing on the trampoline.” The two have been a match for more than a year. The girl’s mother is now out of prison and in transitional housing.
The Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., former mayor of Philadelphia and leader of the Amachi Program, a nationally recognized mentoring program, is visiting Spokane today to promote Caregiver’s Choice, which has been funded in six sites across the country through a $30 million grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Other sites selected include the states of Arizona, North Carolina and Massachusetts and the Atlanta and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.
Goode said he hopes the new program will help communities recruit mentors and find as many children as possible who could benefit from a mentoring relationship.
“When there’s a mentor in the life of a child for one year, we’ve gotten consistently across the country surveys that indicate two-thirds of the children improve their grades, two-thirds of the children improve their behavior, two-thirds of the children improve their attendance at school,” Goode said Tuesday from Seattle.
Goode, whose own father went to prison when he was 14, said his high school counselor told him he was “not college material.” But Goode’s pastor and his wife became his mentors, which he said enabled him to go on to college, where he graduated with honors and went on to graduate school. He eventually served as deputy assistant education secretary under the Clinton administration.
Goode is visiting Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake and Airway Heights Corrections Center today to talk to offenders about getting their children into mentoring programs. He’ll also speak at a community event tonight at Libby Teen Center.
Joenne Harrhy, Family Service Unit manager for the state Department of Corrections, said prisons nationwide are intergenerational. Many are home to parents, their children, and their children’s children, she said. Washington’s Corrections Department wants to break that cycle by finding the children of criminals and providing them services that will help prevent them from going to jail, she said.
“I want more children supported, more families supported. I want kids to see good choices. I want mentors to step up and say, ‘We really need to do something to support this population.’ I want it to be more visible,” Harrhy said. “What we know is that mentoring makes a difference with children.”
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