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Mentoring program founder meets with volunteers

Abilene Reporter-News ©
August 25, 2006

Janet Ardoyno and the Rev. Wilson Goode share a dream: People of faith mentoring children of promise.

Goode, the former mayor of Philadelphia and founder of the Amachi program, a faith-based mentoring model for children of incarcerated parents, visited Abilene on Thursday to inspire more people to follow the dream.

He spoke at a Big Brothers Big Sisters banquet at the Abilene Civic Center, urging churches to provide adult friends for children who need them.

Goode's father ended up behind bars, and his family moved from the rural south to Philadelphia. There, a pastor and his wife took Goode under their wing, eventually helping him go to college, he said. He eventually earned a doctorate degree in ministry and became Philadelphia's first African American mayor.

''I know that a loving, caring adult in the life of a child can help that young person achieve greatness in life,'' Goode said.

Ardoyno, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Texas, said the program has always matched children of prisoners to volunteers, but it has also been involved with the Amachi program since it began.

Goode founded Amachi in 2001. It has since spread to more than 100 cities across the United States. Its name is taken from a term in the Igbo language, spoken by about 18 million Nigerians, and means, ''Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.''

On March 9, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced a $3.78 million grant to launch Amachi Texas, a collaborative effort between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the governor's office, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the OneStar Foundation.

In March, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Central Texas, which has offices in Abilene and San Angelo, was slated to receive $217,000 from the state grant.

Goode said some statistics suggest 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent will end up in jail themselves.

He told a story of meeting three generations of men, all in prison at the same time and place. The youngest man had a boy, and predicted he would not meet his son until the son also became incarcerated there.

''It's all about how to break this chain of events where children follow in the footsteps of their parents and end up in jail themselves,'' he said.

One hour of volunteer service a week for a year can change the life of a child for the better, he said.

''Those of us in this room have the potential to turn this whole thing around,'' Goode told a crowd made up of ministers, church volunteers and others Thursday. ''It's all in your hands.''

Volunteer Gloria McDaniel has been working with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program for four years, she said.

McDaniel has her young friend over for visits, and they attend McMurry University basketball games, she said.

''The girl I'm mentoring now is such a joy,'' she said. ''... Our children are all grown, and so it's so nice to have a little girl around to do things with.''

Big Brothers Big Sisters opportunities for ministry

* Community-based program. As little as one hour a week, four hours a month, interacting with a child. Volunteers have flexibility to plan activities at convenient times, and couples and families can be matched.

* Lunch buddies. Volunteers spend 30 minutes once a week eating lunch with a child at his or her school.

* ''Big for a Day.'' Groups such as churches, social clubs, etc. may organize fun activities, lasting about two to three hours, for a child on the Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list.

Contact Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Abilene, 720 Pine Suite 1, Abilene Texas 79601

Phone: (325) 677-7839