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A handshake and a thank you...all this volunteer needs

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By Alice Du Pont

About a year ago, I volunteered to become a mentor in what is not your everday program – this one is special. It's called "Children With Promise" and it pairs women and men with children who have at least one parent incarcerated.  It's more social mentoring than academic.

Last week I had the opportunity to select two teenage girls to mentor. I knew one of the girls I selected and I knew the mother of both girls. In fact, I served as mentor to the mother of one of the girls about 10 years ago. I must make contact each girl at least once a week by telephone or personal contact.

In December, I and the other mentors (about 25) were trained on how to best help the kids. The training was eye opening to me because these kids have been thrust into a situation through no fault of their own, and now must deal with it every day. I told a friend about the program and as we talked, we tried to put ourselves in that situation.

"Can you imagine your father not coming home every night?" she asked me.

I had to admit that I couldn't begin to guess how a child in that situation feels. I can't imagine visiting a parent behind bars and not being able to touch his or her hand or give him or her a hug. I can't imagine being searched before I could even go in. What must it be like to get into the car for the long ride home, wondering when you'll see your parent again?

There are millions of men and women in jails and prisons nationwide. The vast majority of those incarcerated have children they love. It doesn't matter what crime the parent committed, their children are "doing time" too. The truth is a part of punishment is separation from family, friends and loved ones. I am a firm believer that if you do the crime, no matter what the excuse, you do the time. Incarceration gives you time to think about your actions and maybe you won't be tempted to repeat it.

In the meantime, the kids are at home and school doing what they have to do. I'm a lucky person because when I was a child and other kids asked me where my daddy worked, I didn't have to make up a lie. I didn't have to say he's in prison or he's in jail and pretend it was like saying he was in the military.

I saw one of my girls Saturday and told her and her grandmother that I was going to be her mentor. The young lady looked at me and said, "Really" with a big smile. Her grandmother just looked at me, shook my hand and said, "thank you" twice. The look on her face told me that my efforts were going to be appreciated. That's all I want as a mentor.

Send your comments to adupont@gadcotimes.com.