Story last updated at 5/13/2009 - 11:28 am
"Changing lives, changing communities" is a slogan of Big Brothers Big Sisters and this is what volunteers are doing for children in Southeast Alaska and across the nation. Children with fathers and mothers in prison or jail have special challenges and with dad or mom out of the house have that much more need of an adult in their lives.
Amachi (ah-MA-chee) is an African word that means "who knows what God has brought us through this child." In 2006, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska in Juneau joined The Amachi Program, a national movement. This program was born in Philadelphia in 2001 and has become the largest and most successful mentoring program for children of prisoners in the United States.
Amachi is an opportunity for congregations and people of faith to take the lead in lighting the way for these children of promise.
In Southeast Alaska, Big Brothers Big Sisters served 74 children of people with at least one parent in jail or prison in 2008. In Juneau, Haines, Hoonah, Ketchikan, Sitka and Skagway, 525 children were served.
Aldersgate Methodist Church and Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ) have formal partnerships with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Juneau. Most congregations in Juneau have run notices in their weekly bulletins or newsletters telling their people of the need for mentors. I have been invited to speak at church services and/or pastors have addressed this need in Sunday or Saturday services.
Volunteers do not have to be members of faith based organizations to volunteer to mentor a child in the Amachi program. All volunteers go through the same process for the protection of the children. Volunteers have a background check and an hour -long interview by the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff. This interview is used to match the volunteer with the right child to ensure a successful match.
Mentoring in Big Brothers Big Sisters is about friendship. It is about getting to know one another. It means playing games, going for walks, running errands, watching "the game" or just hanging out. These activities can help a child develop a positive relationship with an adult.
Being an Amachi Big Brother or Big Sister is about friendship. Through the friendship the children can see some dramatic benefits.An independent study of Big Brothers Big Sisters shows that children in mentoring relationships are 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school. They are 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking. The children are less likely to lie to their parents and more likely to have better relationships with peers.
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters, you can phone 586-3350 in Juneau, 766-2151 in Haines, 945-3600 in Hoonah, 747-3500 in Sitka and 247-3350 in Ketchikan. If you are in Yakutat you can phone the Juneau office and in Skagway the Haines office.
Or visit Big Brothers Big Sisters Alaska on the Web at http://www.BigBrothersBigSistersAlaska.org.
Bob Coghill is the Recruitment and Corporate Relations Manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska in Juneau.