Parish gets mentoring program for at-risk youth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 25, 2008

VIDALIA — A handful of people gathered in the Concordia Parish Police Jury’s meeting room Friday afternoon to kick off a mentoring program for at-risk youth.

The Adams County-based Coalition for Children and Youth has had a mentoring program for the children of inmates in Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties for several years, and they are now expanding into Concordia Parish.

“Once we had saturated those areas, we wanted to move into the community over here (in the parish),” Coalition Director Chuck Mayfield said.

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Those at the meeting included members of the coalition and representatives of the Concordia Parish School District.

The goal of the mentoring program is to have an adult who can act as a support and a barrier from bad influences for children who have an incarcerated parent, said Alethia Lawrence, who will head up the Concordia Parish wing of the program.

Those students are already bombarded with possible problems such as drugs, alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy, Lawrence said.

“I have a son in the junior high, and we talk about some of the things he sees,” she said. “Not every kid has a relationship where they can talk about things.”

Along with the schools, Lawrence said she hopes to be able to work with local churches.

“We love to go to the faith-based communities because they are so willing to do mission work,” she said. “If you’re going to do mission work, I say why not do it right here in the local streets where it is needed?”

The only requirements for a child to be considered for the program are that they have a parent incarcerated and that they between the ages of four and 18.

“We have lots of kids who come up and say, “Hey, my mom was arrested last night,’” Vidalia Junior High School Principal Whest Shirley said. “We don’t know how long that might be.”

As long as the parent is incarcerated at the time the child enters the program, they can stay with it, Lawrence said.

Volunteers are required to be 18-years-old, must commit to at least one year of mentoring and have to clear background checks.

They must meet with the student assigned to them at least four hours a month and must contact them by phone weekly.

A former narcotics officer, Mayfield said he would often see the environments the children who would eventually be recommended to the program were in, and being involved with the mentoring program was his way of giving back to the community.

“It is a rewarding experience to (mentor), — you just don’t know how much so until you do,” he said.

Those interested in joining the mentoring program should contact Lawrence at 601-807-8959 or 601-442-6004.