With an alarming statistic of approximately two million children under the age of 18 having one or both parents incarcerated and 7,000 of those children being located in Allegheny County, according to the Amachi Pittsburgh website, it is not hard to see why the organization continues their mission to mentor children ages 4 to 18, who are victims of having an incarcerated parent.
In January 2010, the non-profit faith based program announced the milestone of their 500th mentor-mentee match with a child from Penn Hills and a man from New Kensington.
“I am extremely proud of our accomplishment,” Anna E. Hollis, executive director of Amachi Pittsburgh, said. “I do have mixed emotions. Although 500 matches are good, there are still thousands in Allegheny County that still need our organization. And it reminds us that there is still more to do.”
Amachi began its work in Pittsburgh in 2003 and modeled itself after the Philadelphia version, which began in 2000. The organization carefully screens and trains individuals that are interested in spending their time as a mentor to a child. They encourage educational and cultural activities, along with tutoring.
Reverend Henry Stoutmire, the pastor of Shiloh Community Baptist Church in Apollo and the 500th Mentor, said that he was introduced to Amachi by someone else and began classes in October 2009.
“I was so surprised to be the 500th match and I feel very honored. I am no athlete or anyone famous. I just want them to know that you can be an average person and still enjoy life,” Rev. Stoutmire said. “I get pride out of seeing young Black males walk in the light, because there are so many wrong paths for them to go down. And I enjoy seeing them achieve things and knowing that I helped someone along the way. I see it as doing what Christ would have me to do (give back to others).”
Reverend Stoutmire was matched with Keyshawn Corlew, a 9-year-old from Penn Hills. He said they have gone to lunch, a Harlem Globetrotters game and he basically just listens, so that he can get to know Corlew and his aspirations.
“I feel listening is important. It is apart of communication. Older Black males need to communicate with young Black males.”
Although Rev. Stoutmire has been sick, he says that when he gets better he plans to go to ball games and do more activities.
Along with the organization’s achievement in January, they also launched their 100 Men in 100 Days Campaign, which targets recruiting male mentors because there is such a big need for them.
“We are in need of male mentors, especially Black males, because there are so many boys on the waiting list. When girls enroll in our program they are almost matched immediately because there are more women volunteers than men,” Hollis says.
Among the groups to join the campaign are Greater Allen AME Church in the North Side and Macedonia Baptist Church in the Hill District. Amachi has also teamed up with the Children 2 Champions organizations, which runs the North Shore Stallions, an Allegheny County Midget League team. Several coaches have already become mentors.
“We are constantly finding ways to get mentors through creative recruitment,” Hollis said.
“Anytime a child has to look further than the dinner table to see another male, that’s a problem. There are a lot of homes without Black men in them, “ Rev. Stoutmire says.
Hollis says that Amachi is important because too often children of incarcerated parents have to bear the shame of something that they did not do, but that their parent did.
“People open up to those who may have lost their parents due to divorce or military, but turn their backs on these children, when it is not their fault,” Hollis explains. “Sometime kids cannot express their feelings and end up holding them in. And then later in life we see them acting out. When no one understands the challenges that children of prisoners face, our organization can help them.”
Hollis says that research shows that mentoring and positive intervention help to cut down on the percentage of children going to jail and repeating their parent’s mistakes.
“We do not see enough in the media about the Black men that are doing good things,” Hollis said. “These are everyday men, doing positive things.
(Amachi Pittsburgh is always looking for volunteers, anyone interested can call, 412-281-3752 or visit www.AmachiPgh.org for more information.)