Our Partners for “dream”: Seedling Mentor Program

We’re so proud to partner for the first time with Seedling Mentor Program for our upcoming presentation of dream. We spoke with Molly McIntosh, their Recruitment Coordinator, about what Seedling is doing to help Austin youth.

I’ve been the Recruitment Coordinator at Seedling for three years, meaning I encourage people in the community to volunteer with us.

We’re a school-based mentoring program for children who have a parent either currently incarcerated, in and out of jail, or recently released, deported, or detained. Through partnerships with local school districts, we find children who would benefit from the program. We’re always recruiting mentors, but now is the height of our recruitment season because the school year is about to begin.

We pair a mentor with a mentee, and then somewhere along the way, the magic happens.

There are three unique stressors for these children. One is the stigma and shame which follows them through every stage of their parent’s incarceration. The second is the “Conspiracy of Silence,” meaning the children are either not told the truth of the parent’s location, or they’re told they can’t reveal it or express any feelings about the situation. The third is that there’s no systematic support for children who have an incarcerated parent. There’s no government response; no one is asking about their needs.

A mentor can alleviate stress in each of these categories. Our mentors are as young as 20 and as old as 80, and they do all kinds of activities with their mentees: arts and crafts, playing games, reading books, or just talking about their lives. The children share their hopes, dreams, and stories – most of the time, the mentor is just listening. We don’t expect our mentors to be tutors, counselors, or parents.

We only ask our mentors to be a friend, to be someone who will listen to the child in a non-judgmental way.

One of the recipients of our recent scholarship competition for eighth-graders has been with her mentor since she was in second grade. She had been absorbed into the foster care system at different points in her life, and her mentor was the one consistent person she had through all the changes, ups and downs, and challenges. It’s rare to see relationships last that long. Our kids move, or decide at a certain point they’ve “grown out” of the program and want to move on. This relationship has lasted, and continues to last. Below is an excerpt from her application essay:

“My mentor has watched me grow from a little ladybug who wanted to be Beyoncé into a teenager who wants to be a business owner, cosmetologist, and a graduate of my dream college, Louisiana State University . I would never have made it without the short, beautiful lady who entered my life all those years ago. My mentor encouraged me, strengthened me, believed in me, influenced me, and helped guide me through the path of life. Through the seven years we have been together, she influenced me in ways that made me better both inside and out.”

The thing we really stress is the invisibility of children who have an incarcerated parent. There’s such a lack of knowledge about the population, and because of that, there’s a lack of resources available to them. Seedling is the only program of its kind in the country. To get engaged with us, to support our program, is truly to support a just cause.