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GO KIDS Articles

Fifty children of prisoners await mentors

By Aileen B. Flores
© El Paso Times
August 25, 2008

The Connections Kids program of Community Solutions of El Paso is experiencing a drop-off in the numbers of volunteer mentors for children of prisoners. Community Solutions officials said that for the first time since the beginning of the specialized program in 2004, the agency has started a waiting list of approximately 50 children who are waiting for a mentor.

The Connections Kids is a program that helps children affected by the current or past incarceration of one or both parents. Carolyn Esparza, executive director for Community Solutions of El Paso, said there is a need for mentors who want to make a positive difference in the lives of these children. The organization helps around 150 children, but less than half have a mentor, said Esparza. There are 72 volunteer mentors enrolled in the Connections Kids program. Esparza said the involvement of mentors in the program is important because these children are at risk for dropping out of school, substance abuse and other delinquent behaviors that may lead to their own incarceration.

According to Community Solutions of El Paso statistics, children of prisoners have a 70 percent chance of going to prison and more than 7,500 children with a parent in prison live in the El Paso area. "We see a family cycle that nobody breaks. The reason why they go to prison is not because their parents taught them wrong… kids act out the pain of the family and begin to get in trouble," said Esparza. Esparza said the program helps to keep the children out of trouble and in the future it may contribute to lower crime in the community.

Dimas "Dean" Estrada, volunteer mentor with Community Solutions of El Paso, said he become involved in the program because he wanted to make a difference in a child's life. "When I saw these young children it broke my heart," said Estrada. Estrada said many of the children withdraw from their daily activities because they are embarrassed about having a parent in prison. But mentors help integrate the children back into the community, he said. Estrada said "a lot of people do not realize that they can be a mentor regardless their profession" and encouraged other people to participate in the program.

To become a volunteer for the program, the applicant participates in an orientation training session and a case manager matches a mentor for a child based on the activities they like to do.

The next mentor session is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at 814 N. Virginia.

Registration: 861-7733.

Did you know

  • Children of prisoners have a 70 percent chance of going to prison themselves.
  • More than 7,500 children with parents in prison live in our community.
  • These children often turn to: gangs for a sense of belonging; violence to express their frustration and rage; drugs and alcohol to numb their emotional pain.
  • It costs $35,000 to house one prisoner for one year. It costs $1,500 a year to provide a child with services that may prevent them from going to prison in the first place.

Source: Community Solutions for El Paso.