Methodists Join Hands with Big Brothers Big Sisters to Help Youth

Over 2.5 million children nationwide face a 70 percent probability of following a parent to prison at some point, according to a study by Big Brothers Big Sisters. That percentage may be lowered through a new initiative by the United Methodist Church.

During a mid-September meeting, the Commission on United Methodist Men accepted Big Brothers Big Sisters as an affiliate organization, and has since called on several regional conferences to recruit men and women who are willing to serve as mentors of children of incarcerated parents.

The Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., former Philadelphia mayor and champion of the mentorship program, spoke to the 23-member commission and urged them to befriend the children.

“[There are] many programs to help those in prison, but there are few viable programs to address the specific needs of the invisible children,” Goode said, according to the United Methodist News Service.

He named the mentoring program "Amachi," an African dialect word meaning, "Who knows but what God has brought us through this child."

A study by Big Brothers Big Sisters found that a child with a caring adult is 52 percent less likely to skip a day of school and 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs. Such statistics have driven thousands of Christians in recent years to join local mentorship programs across the nation.

“On the surface the adolescent world seems to be healthy, but there is turmoil that is difficult, painful and even harmful to our young,” Paul Fleishmann, President of the National Network of Youth, told the Christian Post in an earlier interview. “Many of them can’t get through the struggle without the extra help.”

The Network operates one of the biggest mentorship initiatives in the nation, under its MentorYouth.com website. The website provides opportunities for individuals, groups, or churches to connect with a variety of mentorship programs available in the local area.

Fleishmann, whose network binds the nation’s largest youth ministries, such as Campus Crusades for Christ and Youth With A Mission, said the MentorYouth program is meant to reach those who are not “within the walls of the church.”

“There is a paradigm shift in the church where we go out to the community, to the shopping malls, and to the streets,” he explained. “We realized that we can’t just minister within the walls of the church. We need to focus on those who are at risk.”

According to Fleishmann, there are 400,000 youth waiting for a mentor who is willing to give one hour a week for them.

“It doesn’t take that much,” he said. “Just think about the number of people in the church. How many of us couldn’t give just one hour a week?”

The program adopted by the United Methodists call on the mentors to be “friends” of the children with whom they are matched. They are not considered as replacement parents, counselors, “saviors,” or “fixers” of the child. The program is based on the idea that the child’s gifts and assets will be drawn out through a friendship and shared experiences with an adult.

According to Larry Coppock, a staff executive with the commission, at least one annual conference in each of the five United Methodist jurisdictions will be asked to launch an Amachi program. Following a background and reference check of the volunteers, Big Brothers Big Sisters will match one adult with one child.

Big Brothers Big Sisters will also work with local United Methodist Congregations to reduce the risk of sexual abuse of young children and youth through training and support.