With seven children at home and a husband in jail, Tameyka Powell admits she needs help keeping her kids on track. Two years ago, her young son Kendall Jackson behaved so poorly in his New Orleans school that he was suspended several times a month.
Now Kendall, 7, is doing much better. He's on the honor roll and winning praise for following directions. Powell credits the mentoring her son receives through New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, where she says men teach boys right from wrong.
"He wants to please God," says Powell, chatting in a pew at New Hope after a worship service. "Even when I'm watching TV, [Kendall] says, 'Oh Mama, God's not pleased with that.' This church has been a very good foundation for him."
For years, federally supported mentoring for America's 2 million children who have a parent in prison has banned mentors from initiating talk about God due to guidelines enforcing church-state separation. Between 2003 and September 2011, Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP), a $49 million federal program, matched more than 100,000 children with adults. Mentors could discuss matters of faith only if and when mentees raised the subject.
MCP funding ended last September. Yet rather than wither without federal dollars, the movement to mentor children of the incarcerated shows new signs of vitality and religiosity. Churches such as New Hope, which joined the movement without seeking federal funds, are growing robustly religious mentoring programs. Mentors trained under MCP are embracing new freedom to talk about their Christian faith with their mentees.
"There's an extra level of excitement for a mentor when the door is opened to faith conversations" with a mentee, says Jeff Dorn, former director of the Assemblies of God's ...