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Public/Private Ventures Oversees Mentoring Programs For America's Youth
Public/Private Ventures is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives, especially as they affect youth and young adults
Public/Private Ventures is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives, especially as they affect youth and young adults. In carrying out this mission, P/PV works with philanthropies, the public and business sectors, and nonprofit organizations.
We do our work in four basic ways:
We develop or identify social policies, strategies and practices that promote individual economic success and citizenship, and stronger families and communities.
We assess the effectiveness of these promising approaches and distill their critical elements and benchmarks, using rigorous field study and research methods.
We mine evaluation results and implementation experiences for their policy and practice implications, and communicate the findings to public and private decision-makers, and to community leaders.
We create and field test the building blocks-model policies, financing approaches, curricula and training materials, communication strategies and learning processes-that are necessary to implement effective approaches more broadly. We then work with leaders of the various sectors to implement these expansion tools, and to improve their usefulness.
P/PV's staff is composed of policy leaders in various fields; evaluators and researchers in disciplines ranging from economics to ethnography; and experienced practitioners from the nonprofit, public, business and philanthropic sectors.
P/PV's work addresses a wide range of critical social issues, and involves a varied group of sectors and institutions. This diversity provides us with the perspective and experience to assist policymakers, funders and communities in setting priorities and identifying realistic opportunities for advancing promising or proven policies and practices.
P/PV was founded in 1978 to develop, test and evaluate promising approaches to improving the lives and prospects of America's most disadvantaged residents. Our aim, then and now, has been to extract from our work highly credible and useful information for policymakers, funders and practitioners. We are nonpartisan, not only to ensure our credibility, but also because it is our experience that the most promising ideas come from a wide variety of sources.
Much of our work focuses on young people, simply because prevention, when it is possible, is the best policy. Thus we do considerable work in mentoring, after-school programming and literacy improvementfocusing on young people with the odds most against them, like children of prisoners and young children already far behind in school, with few family supports.
Of course, not all problems are preventable, or even identifiable, at early stages. Thus a major part of our agenda focuses on improving the capacity and effectiveness of our country's workforce development policies and organizations. Jobs, incomes and career potential are critical to personal change and improvement, and are often difficult to achieve without guidance and assistance, given the fluidity and competitiveness of our economic system. In this area of our work, we are especially focused on individuals coming out of correctional facilities; those with family responsibilities; those with poor literacy skills or work histories; and those whose backgrounds leave them ill-equipped to find a productive and economically sufficient place in America's fast-moving and highly competitive economy.
We put considerable effort into identifying existing local approaches to tough social issues; we often focus on approaches that look exceptionally promising but are little known. Though we do develop our own initiatives, it is usually as a last resort, because our experience tells us that most good ideas are in practice somewherebetter to find and learn from practical experience than to invent in the vacuum of abstract ideas and good intentions.
We place great emphasis on producing information that is useful to policymakers and fundersand equally great emphasis on producing information that is useful to practitioners. Effective implementation and organizational capacity have not historically received the attention they require; the modest success of most social initiatives is as much due to those factors as it is to inadequate policies.
For that reason, we do an enormous amount of work aimed at improving on-the-ground service delivery. Even our most sophisticated impact evaluations include improving practice as a primary aim. We also have a distinct department at P/PV devoted to and experienced in the issues of growth, scale and replication. The American political system, unlike our economic system, is not structured to promote the expansion of quality productsthus many effective social programs flounder and die, and some ineffective ones prosper and spread. We work to increase the number of effective programs that achieve scale.
Our evaluation department is central to all of P/PV's work. We believe rigorous testing and credible, useful information are critical to the improvement of programs, organizations and public policies, and to the wise investment of limited taxpayer resources. We simply do not do work that does not have the intention of producing useful information. Our evaluation staff are experienced at devising the method and type of evaluation that is most suitable to a given issue.
We also put a high priority on effectively communicating the lessons of our work. P/PV is too small an organization for its work to be useful without accessible and effective communications. We try to shape our work so that, wherever possible, it involves not only innovators, policymakers and funders, but also institutions with deep roots in American civic and political life, such as businesses, justice agencies, faith organizations, large multi-site nonprofits and volunteer organizations. Having such "rooted" institutions involved in our work is often the most efficient way for that work to be communicated and put to broad use.
This website is one of P/PV's primary ways of communicating the findings and lessons of our work and the ideas and insights that motivate that work. I hope you find it useful.
Youth Education For Tomorrow
Philadelphia's 30-plus YET Centers (Youth Education for Tomorrow) are operated by faith-based organizations after school and during the summer. Each center serves 25 low-achieving young readers and is led by rigorously trained teachers who follow a specified daily regimen of activities that vary with age and reading level. The nonreligious curriculum includes student and teacher reading, oral language and comprehension activities, writing, and reading games. The 100 Book Challenge is the primary reading program. YET site monitors provide P/PV with weekly written reports, meet with staff monthly to discuss site problems and progress, and help sites meet the reporting requirements of City of Philadelphia funding.
100 Book Challenge is a unified system for independent reading. The entire system is organized and delivered to schools direct from American Reading Company and includes all books, materials, software tools, and professional development that are required to guarantee measurable results, in every school, for every child. 100 Book Challenge is currently used in more than 600 schools, 95 districts, and 24 states, plus the District of Columbia. More than 100,000 students participate in the program nationwide.
In 1988, intrigued by the potential of mentoring, but concerned about a lack of solid information, P/PV developed an extensive mentoring research agenda. Our goal was to see whether "created" adult/youth relationships could, in fact, have positive impacts on healthy adolescent development. Our research examines not only whether youth benefit from various forms of mentoring but also the nature and practices of effective mentoring relationships and the administrative structures that facilitate their growth. In addition to one-on-one mentoring programs, we have conducted evaluations of group mentoring, school-based mentoring and the potential of mentoring for high-risk youth.
Committed (Trust magazine article)
by March Schogol, August 2005
The middle-aged man and the little boy are having a wonderful afternoon at the movies.
Craig Williams and 8-year-old Tykeem have come to see a kids' fantasycomedy about robots, and as he gobbles down a box of popcorn, the boy giggles and chortles and cheers. Williams gently admonishes Tykeem when he gets a bit too rambunctious, but Williams, too, enjoys the movie.
After the film is overand after Tykeem goes through a roll of quarters and then some, playing the arcade games in the lobby and making "please, please, please!" requests for moreWilliams takes the boy home . . . where he drops him off and goes on to his own home.
No, this isn't a divorced father on visiting day with his son or a grandpa on an outing with his grandson. It is high-quality time between a mentor from a "nice" suburban neighborhood and a mentee from a tough inner-city neighborhood. They've come together through Amachi Big Brothers Big Sisters, a faith-based program to address the pain and needs of children with parents in prison and the insidious fact that about 70 percent of such children eventually wind up in prison themselves.
Launched in 2000 as Amachia West African term meaning "Who knows but what God has brought us through this child?"the program quickly grew into a larger mentoring program that has nurtured 5,100 children and spread from Philadelphia to 197 cities in 48 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
Seeing their value, the federal government has given these mentoring-children-ofprisoners programs about $60 million, and the Bush administration has singled them out as well. President Bush referred to the concept in his 2002 State of the Union address and has praised the program as a model of what faith-based and local communities can and should do.
Laura Bush has announced a similar initiative called Helping America's Youth, which stresses that every child needs a caring adulta parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach or mentor. In connection with that program, President Bush and his wife visited a Washington, D.C., school in April, where they met with four children whose parents have been in prison.
The original idea for Amachi was hatched in the late 1990s by John DiIulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor who served as the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Judy Vredenburgh, the national president of Big Brothers Big Sisters. He had the data, she had the organization.
"All the data I had," says DiIulio, "indicated that no group in America was more at risk than low-income children of prisoners, especially those in the inner city. On any given day nationally, about two million children have Mom or Dad incarcerated, highly concentrated in urban and poor urban areas. The idea was to target the most needy communities, especially those not being served, and the hope was that this could be done in a way to muster volunteers and gain funding and backing not just from private sources but federal, state and local governments, and done in a way that respected all the prohibitions on excessively entangling church and state."
The decision to focus on children with parents in prison was a tremendous challenge. They suffer as at-risk children in general, and may also be hurting from the trauma of seeing a parent arrested and led away or from an economic loss that has plunged the family into a struggle for survival.
Indeed, an Amachi study found that these children suffer a host of emotional problems, often with lasting personal and social consequences. They may feel anger, sadness, shame, guilt and depression, which cause them to act out and behave inappropriately, leading to troubles in school and with the law. As the writer Linda Jucovy expressed in a report on Amachi, there is "a particular form of grief and loss that comes from having a parent who is alive but unreachable."
Amachi also attracted Public/Private Ventures, an influential, Philadelphiabased, program-development and evaluation organization, which had been discussing new ventures involving faith-based organizations; and the Trusts, with input on project development and a commitment which over time grew to some $6 million. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America contributed its reputation, expertise, leadership, resourcesand on-the-ground services, including staff experienced in screening volunteers, matching them with children and supporting the match during the course of the relationship. Amachi has also gained support from other organizations, such as Americorps/VISTA and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
To get off the drawing board and into operation, Amachi needed someone who could bring churches, pastors and volunteers on board; get the necessary approval from imprisoned parents and guardians (especially difficult in the case of fathers who didn't actually know the children); help organize screening, training and administration systems; and generally light the fire of faith and determination under all involved.
Enter the Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr.
Goode's entire career seems to have groomed him to head Amachi. He served as Philadelphia's mayor from 1984 to 1992 and then as a deputy assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration, while he became an ordained minister and a doctor of ministry. This gave him priceless and unique contactsand most importantly, credibilitywithin government and the church community. Even his doctoral dissertation was relevant: (in his words) "how to take churches from the clubhouse to the lighthouse."
Even more, his life experience was relevant. He had himself been the child of an incarcerated parent, with that painful experience to draw on.
While Goode was growing up in North Carolina, he recounts, "My father was sent to jail when I was 14 for an assault of our landlord. He was in jail for two years, and during that time, my mother, my siblings and I moved from North Carolina to Philadelphia."
It was a difficult time for the teenager. "I felt that as a result of the absence of a father figure in the house, I was headed in the wrong direction." Fortunately for him, the family had joined a new church and "the intervention of my pastor and his wife made a difference in my life. Even when my high school counselor was saying, 'Don't go to college, get a job in a factory,' my pastor and his wife insisted I go to college. They even raised money for me to do so."
As difficult as his own experience was, Goode feels it would be even worse today. "I think that, emotionally, without a father figure, a child today has many more challenges than I had. They need more encouragement, a lot more assistance, a lot more hands-on."
When the Amachi idea was proposed to him, Goode says, "I was immediately excited. I felt not only was it a call from God, it was an appointment by God."
Others might have been daunted by the myriad difficulties involved in starting Amachi, but Goode, who became a senior advisor on faithbased initiatives for Public/Private Ventures, embraced his new ministry, overcoming some unusual obstacles.
For instance, when prisoners feared that the program was trying to replace them or would take their children away from them, Goode went directly to the prisons to assure them and get their permission.
To recruit mentors, he went to the churches in the communities where the children live, reasoning that that's where the inmates come fromand will return to. "The churches are in contact with the issues the children are facing," he says, calling them an untapped community resource: "There is potential for higher participation."
When he visits churches, Goode reminds the pastors of the biblical precedent for mentoring: Moses had his father-in-law, Jethro; Paul had Barnabas, as Timothy and Titus had Paul; and the 12 disciples had Jesus.
To congregations, Goode makes use of the biblical journey:
When Joshua stood before the Jordan River, with the wilderness and 40 years of wandering in back of him and the Promised Land in front of him, God spoke to Joshua and said, "Let the priests lead the way."
So even though it was the rainy season and the Jordan ran deep and impassable in spots, God said to Moses, "Let the priests lead the way with the Ark of the Covenant."
So the priests, with nothing but faith to guide them, stepped into the Jordan River, and the waters divided and the people left the wilderness and entered the Promised Land.
Not long ago, Goode was preaching to the congregation at the historic, African-American Bethel AME Church in Baltimore, and when he reached this point in his sermon, he leaned forward: "I wonder if there are any priests here to help children leave their wilderness and enter the Promised Land by mentoring them." He called his audience to join him "in the riverbed" at the front of the church. More than 250 people came and stood with him to be mentors for children of prisoners in their community.
Amachi stipulates that all participating churches sign up at least 10 mentors who would be willing to participate for at least one hour per week for a year. Ministers themselves volunteer, and in some cases "volunteer" members of their flock. The churches must record the activities and outcomes.
Goode began his appeal in the Philadelphia area, where, eventually, 42 churches enlisted in the cause. As federal funding kicked in, he was a catalyst in helping Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the country. By the start of this year, there were 246 mentoring-children-of-prisoners programs nationwide.
As the program has grown, so has the recognition and support. In New York State, Sen. Hillary Clinton is on Amachi's board of advisors, and President Bush has visited Philadelphia several times to meet the mentors and mentees. "I think the President felt this was one particular group of kids that needed a lot of help," says Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
"The President wants to reach 100,000 kids in three years," Wilson says. "Dr. Goode is helping people figure out different ways to get into the mentoring world, and we're happy to help him."
Wilson cites an anecdote that Goode tells "of a father and his kid living in the same cell, and the son's son is just coming into prison. Three generations in the same prison. And the youngest says, 'I have a son, too. I've never seen my son, and I expect that I'm going to see my son for the first time in here.'"
But not if Judy Vredenburgh, the national president of Big Brothers Big Sisters, has anything to say about it.
"We were there right from the beginning, when this was just a glimmer in the eye of John [DiIulio] and me," she notes. It became, however, considerably more than a glimmer after Goode's successful initial recruitment efforts produced 500 volunteer mentors. "At the time," Vredenburgh recalls, "our Philadelphia agency was already serving 700 kids. [Adding many more so quickly] was pretty overwhelming that many qualified volunteers to screen and match with qualified children and then support those matches. We pulled out all the stops."
One of those who enlisted in the cause was Craig Williams, a 53-year-old suburban Philadelphia banker who, through his church, volunteered to mentor the 8-year-old boy from the inner city named Tykeem. When Williams began meeting Tykeem in January 2003, the boy's father was in prison. (Williams says he doesn't know, or want to know, what the father had done.) Tykeem's father has since been released from prison but hasn't moved back home.
So Williams, who has two grown children of his own, has continued his relationship with Tykeem, and both seem to be benefiting from it. They not only go to movies but also to restaurants and the playground. Last summer, Williams took the boy to the Jersey Shore-the first time Tykeem had ever seen the ocean. "During our time together, I make sure we have a good time," Williams says. "For the most part, he and I just hang out, having a good time."
Since Williams began mentoring Tykeem, the boy's teachers say he is doing better in school. "He's a smart guy-got a good head on his shoulders," Williams says. Tykeem lives with his mother, grandmother and uncle; Williams and the family get along well, and the father is okay about Williams' presence in his son's life.
Although the boy's family does its best for Tykeem, Williams says, its circumstances are "modest at best," and their neighborhood has some pretty mean streets. Williams worries that when Tykeem gets older, he might find himself part of a bad crowd. For that reason, although mentors are required to make only a one-year commitment, Williams hopes he'll be able to continue indefinitely, adding, "Sometimes I think it would be nice to go to his high school graduation."
Of course, Williams notes, "I'm not a kid."
"Yes you are," says an affectionately teasing Tykeem. On their movie outing, as they walk from the theater to the parking lot, Tykeem wraps Williams in a hug and doesn't let go.
Not all mentor-mentee relationships go as smoothly, and Amachi's real test lies some 10 years down the road, when results will show whether the program has broken the cycle of imprisonment. Meanwhile, a report on Amachi in June 2003 issued some preliminary statistics that sounded notes of both encouragement and caution.
The study, conducted by Public/Private Ventures and DiIulio's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at Penn, found that the children improved their attitude in school and performed better academically. They were also more self-confident, less likely to start using drugs or alcohol, and had a better "sense of future."
According to statistics gathered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, of 556 initial mentor-child matches established between April 2001 and March 2003, 56 percent were still active, as were 61 percent of the mentors and 60 percent of the mentees.
The best relationships were built around "fun activities," including just "hanging out." Some adults and children discuss school work and, if the children express interest, go to church and participate in activities there.
On the downside, the report noted, 44 percent of matches ended, 30 percent in less than a year, mostly because "parent/guardian did not want relationship to continue" and "incarcerated parent returned and terminated relationship."
For this reason (although six months of mentoring can help a child), Amachi continually reminds mentors that they are "not surrogate parents" and must not become immersed in the family's crises, says the Rev. Mark Scott, who worked with DiIulio in the White House and now is the director of mentoring partnerships for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"No matter what the parent has done, nobody can replace Dad, nobody can replace Mom, even if they [the mentors] want to," Scott points out, noting that mentors and parents in effect establish a partnership.
That's the way it has worked for the Wesley family of Minneapolis. Carl Wesley, a nationally known graphic artist, was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for fatally stabbing a man during a 1997 robbery. At the time, his son, Hector, was a baby, and his wife was pregnant; a girl, Ruby, was born after Wesley was in prison.
To keep in touch with Ruby, now 7, and Hector, 9, Wesley makes and sends them children's books. Barbara Wesley takes the children to visit their father when she can. But realizing there was a huge void in the children's lives, the Wesleys approached the Twin Cities Big Brothers Big Sisters, and in 2004 and early this year, both children got mentors.
Barbara Wesley says it's a godsend. "I think it's great, and I know the kids just really enjoy spending time with their "bigs," she says, using the Big Brothers Big Sisters' "big" and "little" terminology.
The Wesleys hardly live in the "badlands," but the fact that the children's father is in prison is no less painful. "I really felt especially for Hector," Barbara Wesley says. "He has all these guy interests, and I don't know anything about that stuff. He needed more guy time. I've got some brothers and stuff, but people are busy with their own families."
That's where the mentoring has come in. Both children say they miss their father, but their mentors make them feel less lonely. "Yeah," says Ruby, "we went to the mall, we did painting, we made cookies . . . ."
And Hector, who's already into motorcycles, is thrilled that his mentor has one. "One Friday, we didn't have school, so we went on a motorcycle ride. And we went to a motorcycle show when it was in town." Plus, he says, "we go bowling and we do a lot of stuff. Sometimes we just call each other."
Just call each other. Sounds like so little, but it can be so big.
For more, go to www.amachimentoring.org and www.bigbrothersbigsisters.org.
See also: Mustering the Armies of Compassion in Philadelphia: An Analysis of One Year of Literacy Programming in Faith-Based Institutions, and Report on Amachi Mentoring Children of Prisoners in Philadelphia, National Institute of Corrections Library.
Marc Schogol is a veteran journalist who loves writing about the better angels of our nature.
Building From the Ground Up: Creating Effective Programs to Mentor Children of Prisoners (The Amachi Model)
School-Based Mentoring: A Closer Look
The Promise and Challenge of Mentoring High-Risk Youth: Findings from the National Faith-Based Initiative
Moving Beyond the Walls: Faith and Justice Partnerships Working for High-Risk Youth