Posts tagged ‘at risk youth’

February 11, 2013

ENCOUNTERING THE OTHER (story by Jessica Baltzersen)

“In our society, we don’t know what to do with people that become other,” says Dr. Kate Lassiter, assistant professor of Religious and Pastoral Studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The “other” she is referring to are the men and women incarcerated whose voices go unheard and who, as some people perceive, become permanently identified as a delinquent or criminal. When she was 21-years old, Lassiter found herself working with inmates inside a correctional institution. She did not commit a crime, nor was she incarcerated. Instead, she spent her time inside prison walls dedicating her summer to prison ministry work.

It was the summer of 2000, in Hagerstown, Maryland. Lassiter divided her time working at Roxbury Correctional Institution, Maryland Correctional Institution, and Maryland Correctional Training Center. She entered the facilities not knowing what experiences she would encounter.

Lassiter never expected to be working in prison ministry. “It was just something I stumbled into,” she said.

She worked with a Catholic nun in a male correctional facility where she was known as “Sister Kate,” and for three days a week she performed counseling sessions, organized prayer and worship groups, and led church services. The other two days a week she spent in after-prison ministry at a social service agency that helped those individuals who were no longer incarcerated. This service provided basic needs, food, and also housing referrals.

“Prisons were originally religious institutions intended for solitude and reflection,” says Lassiter. Through counseling inmates, she was able to witness the metanoia or spiritual transformation of men who wanted to turn their lives around for the better.

“It was hard, though, because I was never there 24/7,” she says. “There’s no way I could fully grasp or understand what it would be like to be in solitude all of the time.” She came to this realization on July 4, 2000. As she was walking out of the prison she glanced back at the barbed wire surrounding the facility and then looked up at the dark night sky being lit up with fireworks. Seeing the two elements, one symbolizing freedom and the other oppression, she realized how contrary the two were and how she was simply an outsider trying to understand what the people inside the walls were going through.

“Religion sets up guidelines for our lives,” says Lassiter, “and religion has an ability to empower one person.”

She remembered one man in particular, who at the time weighed over 400 pounds. After he began to accept Jesus into his life, he was inspired to not only turn his life around spiritually, but mentally and physically as well. He taught himself to run and lost nearly 200 pounds. He also went back and pursued his GED. After he allowed God into his life it inspired him to change his entire self.

The justice system uses incarceration to keep people oppressed. But to some of those who are incarcerated it is a “community to call home, where they encourage each other,” says Lassiter. In experiencing incarceration, an inmate can view it as a punishment or it can be viewed as a second chance to look within oneself and realize that through spirituality one has the ability to change his or her life.

Twelve years ago, Lassiter worked with what she describes as “people on the edge.” Now, as an assistant professor in the Department of Religious and Pastoral Studies, she still keeps in touch with her mentor and continues research around social justice issues to “support, guide and  nourish those who find themselves incarcerated.

Lassiter believes that she positively influenced men’s lives through her ministry work and counseling.

Humbly, she says, “I don’t want to claim that I changed anyone’s life. It is just something I was called to do.”

July 5, 2012

Carriers of Hope: Ohio Justice & Policy Center (by Jennifer Von Gries)

 

What is unique about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati: current Vice President of Recruitment, Lynn Cameron, at this point in his life had once been a juvenile probation officer for eight years. He was working with a few kids on probation and there was boy, 13-years old, who seemed bright, but he had a chip on his shoulder and was in trouble.

Since Cameron, at that time, was a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati and knew about the organization, he told the boy that he could sign him up. This young man didn’t believe that it would work out for him; he came to tears and told Cameron that if they would have met a couple years ago it might have worked. But, to the young man, it was too late now. 

Two years later, this 13-year old boy died from an overdose by mixing the wrong combination of illegal substances. “If we could only work with kids to help prevent this kind of situation from happening. If these kids don’t find a role model who is positive and appropriate, they could find them anywhere, such as with a gang member or someone off the streets, and potentially get them into trouble. I feel like we need these positive volunteers be role models,” says Cameron.  

When you walk into the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, the first feeling you experience is that of compassion and at home. In the hallways of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati you can observe pictures of organizations best matches. “These photos help represent who we are as an organization,” says Cameron.

His journey for the last 23-plus years explains why the impact from positive figures has an effect on teenagers. Cameron, immediately out of college, started working for the Juvenile Probation Department where a co-worker mentioned the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to him in 1988.

According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters website, each time Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs a child with a role model, they start something incredible: a one-to-one relationship built on trust and friendship that can blossom into a future of unlimited potential. And thanks to the first-ever nationwide impact study of a mentoring organization, they have the facts to prove it.

Corey Strauss, a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph, says, “I got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters because a friend had mentioned it to me. I have always been interested in working with young children as a future career. Having been with my little brother made me a better mentor and a better person because I know I am helping him follow the right path. I want to be the role model that he can look up to by graduating from college and staying off the streets. I can give him the advice that he needs.”

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati there are core programs and special programs.  The special programs include the Amachi program, which, in the West African tradition means, “Who knows but what God has brought us through the child.” 

Statistics say that, currently, there are approximately 2.4 million children that have one or more incarcerated parents in the United States. This statistic puts the child in an overwhelming state of mind and with that Big Brothers Big Sisters committed themselves to identify and help the children of incarcerated parents with one-to-one mentoring that will match the child with volunteers from the community. 

Cameron states that 30 to 40 percent of the children involved at Big Brothers Big Sisters are in the Amachi program. In his words, this saying means, “Look at the gift that God has given us through this child.”  Cameron says that the children do not know that they are in the Amachi program. Parents will put their child in this program to give the child a positive role model.

Cameron has been the Vice President of Recruitment for the past five years; however, he has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for well over 10 years now as a case manager who interviews volunteers and matches them up with youths. 

“A very recent year was the toughest with our being short of our goal of matches of about 18 matches out of 500,” he says. In the first half of 2010, on the other hand, 110-plus individuals applied for goal matching in terms of fundraising.

Cameron says eighty percent of mentors have had good experiences. Twenty percent of the mentors will be lost in the first six months because of connection and pair-up issues. “This is something worthwhile. I want the recruiters to know that it is worthwhile, a good experience, and that they will enjoy being a Big Brother or Big Sister. They will build a good relationship and attachment,” he says.

“The reason why some pair-ups don’t click is because parents aren’t communicating. Some may feel like their mentors are upper class; however, our goal is to tell the parents and volunteers to not focus on materialistic things but on being a role model for the child.” 

Parents need to give permission to each activity that the mentor plans for their little brother or sister. That includes taking them to sports games or going to a salon to get nails done. Parents are always involved.

Some children are struggling with grades in school; however, every year a survey is conducted and the results come in stating that about 75 to 80 percent of the children have improved their grades. There are a variety of surveys conducted that focus on several different components of a person’s life including school, personal and relationships with others especially with self-confident and social skills.

Cameron says that children may not talk at first with their mentor, but after about three weeks they will socially improve for an example while speaking look in the eye of the person they are speaking to.

According to their community-based program, most of the relationships formed and the one-to-one outings and activities include going to parks, museums, listening to one another, and engaging into each other’s interests, and going to sports games. 

“A lot of the children really enjoy going to the Reds’ games. Being able to sit in the ball park and enjoy the game is something they always continue to ask to do in the spring. Sometimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters meets with their little ones on the weekends, and sometimes in the evenings. It is what works with the child and the mentor. Each pair is unique,” says Cameron.

Cameron didn’t receive his love and compassion from recruiting. As stated earlier he joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters when a coworker expressed how it would change his life. During Cameron’s journey he became a mentor for four little brothers. Describing his little brother’s experiences brought joy to his face, because he knows deeply that he made a difference in their lives. 

He has pride in the work which he does. Cameron described his first little brother as a boy who struggled with making friends in school and outside of school, just as he’s overcome the death of his father a year and a half before Cameron came into his life. The young man had suffered from physical and emotional disabilities and had a tough time prior to his adoption with his birth family. This little brother was with Cameron for seven years until he was 18.

“He was difficult to open up at first, but the more he and I got to know one another and hang out, he opened up a lot more,” says Cameron. “After I was done being his big brother I was given another individual whose life situation was different.”

Cameron’s second little brother had no father figure, missed school, and his mom was making excuses. “I got in involved with him in the 7th grade and knew that it wasn’t acceptable for him to be missing a lot of school. I wanted to see him get good grades. He improved his attendance the next year and from 9th through 12th grade he didn’t miss a single day.”

“My third brother also did not have a father figure. He was a good kid but had the lack of opportunity and lived in a rough area neighborhood. We went to Reds’ games and to the parks,” he says.

Cameron is currently still working with his fourth little brother. He describes him as a 15-year old boy in the 9th grade who has suffered from a lot loss.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has several fundraising events that go on each year. They have a Golf Outing, Bowl For Kid’s Sake, 5K Run, and Gold Ball Drop. To gather more information about these events and others, such as the annual Golf Outing and Golf Ball Drop, visit the impressive Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati website.  

“To get involved, you don’t need to be an expert with children,” says Cameron.