A Promise Kept – Mentoring with Seedling

Seedling KidsI realized I have not written in this blog about something I have been involved with for the past eight years or so, and I am not sure whyI guess because I have written so much about it elsewhere, on the web site, promotional materials, etc., I just thought in the back of my mind that I had covered it…Not so much.

I have been involved with a foundation which started out as an educational foundation for a local high school, expanded its work past that particular school and which became a change agent for an entire district. John Blazier, a local attorney and ardent public education advocate began it and guided it into a family foundation and then with my help, a stand alone non-profit. He became my personal mentor along the way, and I hope to always keep the children first in my mind and heart the way he does.

Seedling Foundation is a group of committed, passionate folks who work together to support public schools in the Greater Austin Area through mentoring children who have a parent in prison (Seedling’s Promise). It touches thousands of young lives each year, and changes some of them forever.

Why children who have a parent in prison?

Because the Austin ISD Principals told us over six years ago that this was an unidentified, but omnipresent group of the most at-risk students they were dealing with. They seemed to cross all of the boundaries in discipline referrals, etc. but there were no programs that were designed to specifically identify or help them. John Blazier was disturbed and intrigued and he brought this request to the Seedling Board with a request of his own. Could we create a mentoring program that would support this specific demographic?

Of course we could. However, I felt that given my personal experience with mentoring (and Lord knows, I was not alone), I would ask that this mentor program change the paradigm. Most typical mentor programs in site-based models (in this case, at the child’s school) gave volunteers an hour or so of training, if that, and then threw them into a strange school and a new relationship with a student who might have very large life challenges. Was it any wonder that many of them quit within 90 days, or did their year and never mentored again? I didn’t think so.

What could we do to change that pattern? We knew from the research that the relationships that make a difference last a year or longer; preferably longer. We made it our goal to focus on the mentors in our new program.  They would be trained, continually given education opportunities that would make them better mentors, and most importantly, they would be highly supported by a Mentor Director who had counseling and school experience. We started off in 2005-2006 with just five schools, and the word started to spread.

This year we are hoping to support at least 500 mentor matches in AISD schools. One of our largest sources of mentors has been the fabulous people in the Texas Office of the Attorney General. They see the fallout in families from incarceration and they wanted to make a difference. The City of Austin has joined our mentor force and are making a difference every day. The list goes on and on and grows daily and we are seeing the fruits of some relationships which have lasted five or six years. It has been a blessing and our rate of returning mentors (definitely my personal measure of success) is over 65% (79.6% for 2011-2012!).  That is incredibly better than the national average.

In order to add even more value to the program, my husband and I envisioned a scholarship award given to 8th graders entering high school. We thought that winning a $5,000 scholarship at 8th grade would change and inform a student’s self-image for the better. The Seedling College Scholarships started with two students from Webb Middle School, who were honored at the Seedling’s Promise Mentor Event this May as our first graduates.

Three hundred people got to their feet that day and gave these young people a standing ovation. Then the Seedling’s Promise graduates remained at the front of the room to welcome the three scholarship winners for 2011. It was so touching, and we knew that all of the applause was for a promise kept.

These children had caring, trained and supported mentors who were friends, confidants and often one of the most stable relationships in their lives. They had improved their chances to attend college through the Seedling College Scholarships.

Seedling Foundation’s vision is of a community that wraps loving and supporting arms around our public schools, and I am beginning to see it. If you are interested in learning more about Seedling’s Promise, just click on the Seedling icon. If you are in Austin, and this speaks to you, please join us! If you are not, but think what we are doing has merit, consider supporting Seedling.

We welcome you to join our vision and help us grow.

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