Posts tagged ‘mentoring’

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.

April 5, 2011

Mistakes 143 – a Column by Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell

My “Mistakes 143” column on this occasion takes us to another day at the University of Higher Education and lower learning.  It is the “Other University”.

Imagine this: it seems as though when most things change, most things stay the same. Recently, it was very, very interesting – a lot of excitement in this incarceration facility. The “Camp” corrections officers (C-O’s) found contraband and, so, now guess what?  Sixty-five to 70% of the Camp is drinking as much water as they can.

 Those around me heard of this finding, and they heard that there is a strong possibility that the “whole” camp will be drug-tested; they are dirty. Weed (mostly).

Someone copped to the incident. Gang members usually cop to theirs.

Change – the individual placed so many others in danger. First of all, he placed himself in danger, and then the family of the individual that made the so-called drop.

Maybe I am only one of the only individuals that does not smoke anything – myself and a few others are clear of this debacle. My Bunkie is forced not to; he has two (positive) tests. One more (positive) and he is back to the yard with about four months or so added to his sentence and Camp program discontinued. He is not the only one here that has lost time or is living on the edge.

Fire Camp, as we call this facility, is maybe one of the only facilities that is “free”; that is, it is out in an open space, where inmates have total access to the free world. And in which all races, gangs, and ignorant activities exist. It is different from behind the walls. The other night I saw something I thought was special: N. and S. sharing virtuals together. I said, “Look at that. They are intermingling.” Behind the walls they would run a piece of metal, etc. so far up each other it would take a day for them to take it out (they would attempt to kill each other for something small).

Now, the “day after the storm.” This is late February. Officials tested the whole camp on the related issue of contraband I indicated above. Inmates began to harm themselves by drinking bleach and an enormous amount of water.

It was only about 10 to 20 inmates out of 122 inmates that willingly went up there to test and had complete confidence in a positive test. A nice ratio. Even those that have been tested negative over the last two to three months were in question of their test. An ugly sight: the fact that they have already lost time, and especially knowing they are under mandatory testing. Sad thing.

God has blessed me to stay out of the way and allowed my peers to have the floor at this time. As I say, I am just passing through and I do not want any problems.

I am patiently waiting to be inserted back into the game (hoop slogan) by God, so that I can have The Last Laugh. Oh! God allowed Blake Griffin of the N.B.A.’s Los Angeles Clippers to perform a dunk in the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest that, in fact, I “patented” over 20 years ago. Put me in, coach. I am ready!

I pray that my words are able to reach my column in RED! the breakthrough ‘zine because they are the gatekeepers that I have to pass. I know who is running the show. I am about hope and health.

And, by the way, I still have not seen the Blake Griffin contest-winning dunk. And, too, after the testing, my peers are back in business with the garbage. Half of the camp is on the edge of their seats. Hmmm. Another day at the university.


I thought I closed this message, but in life as I have learned, when the storm comes, it continues. The C-O’s are earning their keep, as today they found more stuff. It’s a pernicious cycle, but I know that God is working in my life.

RED! the breakthrough ‘zine columnist, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell, is considered by a number of National Basketball Association (N.B.A.) players, All-stars, and peers as one of the greatest players never to make the N.B.A.  A native of Oakland, California, Hook Mitchell, is currently completing a prison sentence in northern California.  While active in the Bay Area as a mentor, coach, youth advocate, and physical fitness trainer, and former legendary streetball player, Mr. Mitchell is featured in the award-winning documentary film, Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius Hook Mitchell.  He is one of RED!‘s most loyal writers and a model of inspiration for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals to observe.

April 4, 2011

FROM DELINQUENT TO DISCIPLE: Essay by Regina Newman on a Memoir by James Robinson, Sr.

Author James L. Robinson, Sr. realized later in life that the ordeals he encountered as a young man were part of God’s greater plan for him. His memoir, From Delinquent to Disciple, startles the reader in the way it depicts a once-devastated individual who was spared and eventually empowered to do great things.

James uses a variety of references from the Bible in his vivid true story. Throughout the memoir he quotes verses that relate to his life experiences and the many challenges he faced. 

One of the first references James uses is in his Introduction. It is from the book of Romans. He pinpoints chapter 8, verse 28, which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to his purpose.” James explains that he did not always understand the Bible until he looked deeper at what happened to him during the course of his life. 

James’ next biblical reference is from Philippians 4:19 which states, “God will provide you with everything according to His riches and glories in Jesus Christ.” As poor as James was when he was young, he tells the reader that there was never a time he did not have food and shelter and that God always provided for him and his family.  The reader starts to see that James has a strong belief in God, despite the many misfortunes he and his family endure.

Another reference he used in From Delinquent to Disciple comes from Exodus 20:3 which says, “Thou shall not steal.” James describes how he learned this lesson as a young child, but that negative peer pressure influenced him to break this commandment. He relates that one should never allow peer pressure to compel one to do things that go against God’s word. James describes how his friend Carlton influenced him to steal. Even though James was taught by his mother and grandmother that you were not supposed to take things that didn’t belong to you, he fell to the peer pressure and stole things anyway. From boxes of pastry off of a shipping dock to cartons of BBs at a salvage store, James let Carlton influence him in a negative way.  James almost went to juvenile detention after an officer traced him to the stolen BBs, but, as James describes, God was always watching out for him and he was let go.

James started drinking as a teenager.  He quotes Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the spirit.” James describes the many times he drank as a teenager and how he knew he was breaking the law, but did it anyway. He believes that “drinking comes with responsibility and responsibility comes with age.”

Many chapters of From Delinquent to Disciple are about James’ seventeen-year addiction to drugs and alcohol. All the while he is doing the things he knows are wrong, he describes how amazed he is that he came away almost unscathed by everything he did. He continues to credit God for always taking care of him and alludes to his belief that God always had a greater purpose for him.

Next, James quotes the first book of Timothy 6:10 which says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” In this chapter, James depicts his experience with dealing drugs. He describes how hustling allowed him to pay all of his bills, buy new things, support his drug habits, and still have money left over, even though he knew all along how bad it was.

In chapter 13, James refers to Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Here, James describes how God always kept his best interests at heart no matter what he was doing. He conveys to the reader how he was able to overcome his long addiction to drugs and alcohol. The birth of his second child inspired him to quit drugs and alcohol. He began to turn his life around. He was given the opportunity to teach Sunday school and help some area teens with similar addiction problems. This confirmed James’ belief that God had a greater plan for him. He was able to stay off of drugs and alcohol and begin helping others turn their lives around. 

James’ reference to the 23rd Psalm is very appropriate at one of the darkest times in his life: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me….” This famous verse helps put in perspective how James was able to finally quit his job at Siemens, which he had wanted to do for some time. He secured a long-awaited job at Ford Motor Company, which laid the groundwork for what would become one of James’ greatest moments in his life. As the story comes to a pinnacle and then a closing, James patiently depicts how he helped initiated a successful class-action law suit against Ford Motor Company for racial discrimination, a grueling experience which James feels was one of the greater purposes God had planned for him.

In From Delinquent to Disciple, James L. Robinson, Sr. uses many different verses to tell his life story. Through scripture, James is able to show the reader his deep relationship with God and how, despite many perils throughout his life, God was always with him.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Here is a video interview with author, mentor, and youth advocate, James Robinson, conducted by   RED! in 2010.

Regina Newman has been an operating room nurse for 20 years. She works at Mercy Hospital – Western Hills (Cincinnati, Ohio) and is a student at the College of Mount St. Joseph, working toward a BSN degree. Married with four children, Ms. Newman also serves as president of the Southwest Community Basketball Organization in Harrison, Ohio.

March 15, 2011

Jailhouse Conversion – by Karyn Alexander

From Disco Dude to a Divine Destiny

It started like any normal weekend night for Mike. The year was 1980.

A freshman in college, Mike donned his best disco outfit to prepare for an evening with his drinking buddies. The event of the evening was a date with “drink and drown” at the dance club.

Sporting his best white silk pants, black silk shirt, and large gold chain, Mike looked like a good facsimile of John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever.

Mike’s stature at 6’2” tall, with slim and dark hair, revealed a man of the town. Swaggering from his bright orange Pinto, Mike entered the bar with great enthusiasm for a big night of drunkenness.

A good Catholic boy, Mike was raised in the church. He was an altar boy, knew the Ten Commandments, and was water baptized as a baby. In the “God Club,” so he thought, he led a life of duplicity.

Drinking with the priest on weekends, his religion was nothing but a social obligation.

During his high school days, he had begun a life of stealing and lying. Stealing was a hobby he knew was wrong, yet the convictions he lacked could not reprimand or restrain his behavior. Having a moral compass of sorts, he saw the error of his way, but witnessed in his elders a contradiction of values.

Mike’s home life was one of ridicule and verbal abuse. Mike’s father drank heavily; he was abusive and toxic to all of the family members. He was cruel when addressing the kids, Mike being one of four children. His father’s mean spirit and dissatisfaction with his own life spilled to his frightened wife, and even played out in sadistic suggestions to Mike.

On one occasion, Mike’s father asked him to strike a match and hold it to his father’s arm, burning him on purpose. He was only a child and knew he should obey, but his father’s request bread a chronic pattern of people-pleasing out of fear of being rejected and severely scolded. Mike’s makeup was one of chaos from the confusion of his father’s drunken and unloving encounters. The love that should have been a father’s was absent and replaced with unpredictable angry outbursts, and with wild hateful comments that ruled Mike’s mind and life.

During an escapade at the local Sears store, Mike was caught shoplifting. This was his second offense. He had lied about the first, calling his neighbor to bail him out. She had pretended to be his mother.

This time, however, security called directly to his home and contacted his father. The response was devastating as his father said, “I love you conditionally,” meaning, I no longer love you because you are a thief. At that juncture, Mike was thrown out of the house. Still a minor, he was sleeping in his car until he was able to move in with his older sister. Love had been cruel, and his worst nightmare had come true. “I am rejected because I am not worthy to be in my father’s life. He will only love me when I meet his expectations; that is, when I am good.”

Mike’s insecurities intensified at this time. He went so far as to fake a burglary at his apartment to show he was unsafe, and, therefore, able to regain access to his home and father. One would ask, why would anyone want to go back to an abusive person? We all know how much a parent’s love means to us, so any of us might have responded similarly.

Mike was allowed home again, which answered our question as to “why?” “I guess I missed the abuse,” he said.

Mike was looking for the love and acceptance that he thought needed to come from Dear ol’Dad; bad attention was better than no attention.

During Mike’s tumultuous years, his two brothers began attending a non-denominational church. They asked if he would attend. He thought it sounded boring. They were talking about something called “being saved.”

Mike felt something was missing in his heart, but didn’t feel the church was his “thing.”
Ironically, though, out of the blue one day, a thought came into mike’s head: “Oh, My God, I need to go to confession.” Strangely enough, he did. Nothing seemed to happen, except that he had obeyed his conscience.

Back to our eventful disco night. Mike was a suave guy. He was big, bad, and beautiful. He danced the night away, drinking wildly. He said he danced with everyone in the place. His stylish ensemble, along with his personality, was the hit of the show. “Give me the hose” – a call for more alcohol – left our disco dancer more than full of fun.

As the night wound down, Mike left the bar alone, got into his car and promptly ran a red light. Not a second after his infraction, he was pulled over and arrested. He had 12 previous points on his record, so he was arrested for driving on a suspended license. He was placed in the front seat of the cruiser, and told, “You are going to jail.”

Thoughts of self-admonishment ran through Mike’s mind. “I’m a criminal, I suck, I’m obviously not doing things right.”

Mike was handcuffed and taken to jail. All he could think was how surreal it all felt. “Where are my friends now?” he thought.

“You have one phone call,” explained the sheriff. Mike thought it was all so surreal~ perhaps he was on a TV show. Not so. He was booked, photographed, and walked to a cell.

Placed in a cement cell with an L shaped concrete bench, Mike entered the already occupied holding tank. Two men were lying on the benches. Mike decided to sit on the floor. His first thought was, “My white silk pants are going to be filthy!” He sat down anyway. His attitude had been one of apathy, and even flippant until the door of the cell closed. Mike decided to take the only spot left in the tank, and he sat next to the toilet and dozed off.

What awoke Mike was a loud clanking noise. A metal pole was being raked across the cell bars by the uniformed guard. Mike woke, startled, seeing a much different landscape than his original entrance to the cell.

Sitting on the toilet next to his head, “taking a crap,” was a new resident of the cell.

Mike looked around and thought to himself, “Lucky me, I am the only white guy in here.”

Surrounding Mike were men bragging about their offenses. They called out things like, grand theft, robbing a bank, beating up mom. Far from his mind was the filth on his silk trousers; more so, it was the reality that he was not safe. Being surrounded by 13 men who gave off the “I’m not moving for whitie” vibe made for a very uncomfortable evening. All Mike could think was, “They are criminals with guns who could give a shit about me or anyone. I was freaked,” he said.

At that very moment, the light went on. “What have I done that has brought me to this place?” He felt he had no other choice but to say, “All right, God, I give this all to you. I am sorry for my sins. Whatever my brothers have, I want it too [salvation]. I am asking you to come into my life.”

A calm feeling came over Mike, as he slipped off to sleep again.

The sound of metal hitting the cell bars awoke him for a second time. Sugar donuts were being passed around; his name was called, and he was taken off to a court room.

Mike was released that morning. He hitchhiked home in his soiled evening Disco-wear, and found himself wondering where his life would go from here. He attended church that week with his brothers and went to the altar for prayer. Mike expressed his gratefulness to God, and wept as he felt the Holy Spirit come into his life. He asked Jesus to be the Lord over everything in his life. He finally felt the love of God. He knew God would be the father he needed, filling the void his own father had left years before.

Over the next few months, Mike knew there was more to life than what he had been doing before his arrest. He had been working, drinking; going no-where.

 As he was re-baptized, he asked the Lord, “What do you want me to do?”

Strangely enough, a sign came. Sitting on his desk the very next day was a sticky note that said, “Go into all the Earth and preach the good news.” Matthew 28
Mike knew he was being called to spread the Gospel- The love of God.

Fast forward–Thirty years later: I asked Mike how the scripture and calling had impacted his life. Where was he now? How had the jailhouse conversion and subsequent call been fulfilled?

Mike had gone into ministry training, but had not completed it. He still struggled with the old inferiority feelings and unworthiness from his father’s abuse. He married and had three, grown Christian children. He felt his role as a father was fulfilled in raising Christian children and breaking an ungodly curse of abuse.

His commitment is now renewed to serve, as his station in life has changed. He is now able to give himself to others, as his “nest” is empty. I asked Mike if he could share any wisdom about his experience. He responded with the thought that many. like himself, might view their heavenly father with the same eyes they view their earthly father. It is easy to confuse our emotions when we have suffered rejection and pain. We may imprint our natural father’s behavior onto our relationship to God, which causes us to see Him wrongly.

Mike expressed that there is hope for us because God came to him at his worst hour. He was not abandoned or set aside, rejected or unworthy. It was the hour when a human had failed; his own father had abandoned him. In the same hour, his true and loving heavenly father stepped in to save and love him in a more profound and eternal way.

I asked if he was in ministry now, and he said, “I don’t have that story to tell yet. I am still working out what that really means.”

So, for this Disco dancer, a date with Destiny was waiting in a jail cell so many years ago; not in a Church, but patiently waiting upon Mike for a place to open in his heart.

God bless,


Karyn Alexander

Executive Director, Winfield House


Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way, giving hope to God’s people.

Voice of the Nations: Rev. 5:9 “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe, people, language, and nation.”