Mentoring builds dreams

By Kerry Coffey

Smiling ChildrenSadly, one out of every 32 adults in South Carolina is under some form of supervision – house arrest, probation or imprisonment – because of a criminal conviction. Although this statistic is startling, even more unnerving is the number of families and children affected by incarceration.

“Children of incarcerated parents are three to four times more likely to become juvenile delinquents, and may be at increased risk of entering prison themselves,” emphasizes Robin Kimbrough-Melton, research professor at Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life and director of the National Center on Rural Justice and Crime Prevention. “These children are also more likely to exhibit behavioral, emotional health, and educational problems.”

Unfortunately, the prison population is on the rise. Nationally, the number of children with an incarcerated parent increased more than 100 percent from 1991 to 1999. Also, the number of women entering the criminal justice system more than tripled since 1985. All these facts mean that often children are left without their parents, creating stressful and sometimes impoverished situations.

To address these challenges, experts from several Clemson Public Service Activities units are implementing a mentoring program, called “Building Dreams,” for children of prisoners in five South Carolina counties.
“This mentoring program brings together community groups, faith-based organizations and several Institutes at Clemson University in ways that may have not happened otherwise,” observes Howard Brown, director of applied research at Clemson’s Youth Learning Institute. “Opportunities to help children not only bring out the best in individuals, but often build bridges between groups.”

The mentoring program is made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Clemson experts from the institutes and the Sumter County Extension office are collaborating with Angel Tree Ministries and numerous community partners in this effort.

Community partners are Clarendon County: Ministerial Alliance; Darlington/Lee Counties: Center Baptist Church; Greenville County: Augusta Road United Methodist Church, Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Reedy River Missionary Baptist Church, Shady Grove Baptist Church, and Valley Brook Community Outreach Church; Pickens County: Caring Communities of Pickens County; and Sumter County: Sumter Citizens.

For more information or to become a mentor: www.clemson.edu/ifnl.