Seedling Foundation mentors kids of incarcerated parents
There are three occasions when the U.S. government separates children from their parents:
1) Military deployment—Department of Defense provides family support in maintaining relationships
2) Child welfare intervention—agency provides follow-up support with the goal of family reunification
3) Incarceration—there are few or no protocols for supporting that child
“Happy birthday!” Ashley LeMaistre says, handing her ten-year-old mentee a Burger King chicken sandwich.
Normally, she’d refrain from taking him gifts—it might make the other kids jealous—but today is a special occasion, deserving of a special meal. With gusto, Miguel [not his real name] thanks Ashley and begins devouring the sandwich.
“It’s amazing how much enjoyment can come from a three-dollar sandwich,” Ashley marvels to herself, smiling back at Miguel as she begins to unpack her own lunch.
In the last year, she’d seen tremendous growth in Miguel, a boy she’d been mentoring for two years through the Seedling Foundation, a school-based mentorship program that works hand-in-hand with most schools in the Austin I.S.D.
“At first, he was really quiet,” says Ashley, a Williamson County resident who visits her mentee once a week during her lunch break. “It was kind of like that awkward dating experience. He’d look around a lot, and we didn’t know what to do. But now he has trust that I’ll stick around.”
Trust is the foundation of a successful mentor-mentee relationship, perhaps especially with the Seedling Foundation, a program that focuses on providing reliable role models to children with incarcerated parents. In addition to common childhood worries about schoolwork, grades, and fitting in, these children may also experience feelings of fear, confusion, guilt, isolation, anger, or embarrassment that come with having a parent in prison.
When Ashley first met Miguel, he was struggling with school. “He was actually repeating a grade and was really stressed because he was getting a lot of pressure from home to do better,” Ashley recalls.
In addition to reading with Miguel during their weekly mentorship lunches, she teamed up with his homeroom teacher to create a progress chart. For each week that he did well or showed improvement, he’d receive a sticker.
The extra encouragement turned out to be just the motivation Miguel needed. “He did really, really great this year,” Ashley brags. “He moved up from very poor grades to Bs.”
Navigating a relationship with a young boy presents its share of challenges, says Ashley, who at first expected to be paired up with a young girl. But the Seedling Foundation’s orientation program, the mentor resource notebook, and the monthly Lunch & Learns equipped her to handle those challenges.
Now she and Miguel are having heartfelt discussions about what he wants to be when he grows up, and even as a soon-to-be fifth grader, he’s beginning to express interest in attending college.
“It’s exciting to watch him change and grow,” Ashley says. The program “gives you an excuse to do fun things with a kid who may not have that one-on-one attention at home or elsewhere.”
“The average term being served by parents in state prison is 80 months.”
For more information about the Seedling Foundation, visit www.seedlingfoundation.org.
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