BEAUFORT—Children who have a parent or parents serving time in the correctional system could be considered some of the most vulnerable in society.
They are forced to deal not only with the loneliness and sadness of being without their parent, but also with increased chances they will live in poverty and suffer from emotional problems.
Volunteers with a new ministry sponsored by Catholic Charities hope to change that.
Guiding Children of Promise is a program designed to help children with incarcerated parents develop healthy, nurturing relationships and improve their spiritual, emotional, educational and physical well being.
“We’re doing this so we don’t ignore the social justice opportunity to work with families of those who are incarcerated,” said Terry Buquet, the program organizer and client advocate for diocesan prison ministry.
“Most of these kids are from a lower economic status to begin with, and when you lose a parent to prison, it only makes it worse. If these kids are fortunate, they’re able to live with another parent or grandparent, but then the single parent is left to be the provider, and grandparents often can’t do what a younger parent can. The challenges are even worse when the kids go into foster care because they have no one else to care for them.”
The first program is based at St. Peter Church in Beaufort but Buquet hopes others will start one in their area. Information is available on the Catholic Charities Web site at www.catholic-doc.org/catholiccharities/PrisonMinistry/GCOP.html.
He said more volunteers are needed for the Beaufort program, and they are especially looking for college-age or young adults because they often have the easiest time connecting with young people in a mentor situation.
People interested in becoming volunteers must pass a background check, complete VIRTUS training, go through a one-hour orientation session, and attend six hours of training on how to be an effective mentor and what issues affect children with incarcerated parents. Buquet said there would also be ongoing training sessions on additional topics.
Twelve volunteers have signed up to work with children in the Beaufort area, and initial training sessions were held Oct. 10 and 17. More sessions are planned for later in November.
Buquet recently received the first referrals from the Department of Social Services: four boys between the ages of 11-14 who live in the Seabrook, Burton and St. Helena communities near Beaufort. He said the program will initially only work with boys from this age group because they are considered the highest risk. Sessions for boys of other ages and girls will be added as the program grows.
Buquet is contacting the boys’ caregivers to arrange transportation and scheduling for the first sessions. Ongoing activities will include mentoring, group meetings, and special activities such as hiking, retreats, camping, fishing, and trips to cultural events and museums.
Spiritual formation is one of the program’s key elements, but Buquet said the purpose is to offer guidance, not to push a child toward a specific denomination.
“The program is Catholic in that we’ll introduce them to our faith and share our faith with them, but our purpose is not to convert a good Baptist, for instance,” he said. “We want to be there to help the child and offer them the spiritual growth and guidance they need.”
Jim Pennell of Beaufort is one of the volunteers being trained at St. Peter. He said he previously volunteered at a county jail in the Charlottesville, Va., area, and decided to give Guiding Children of Promise a try because it is a way to simultaneously live out his faith and give back to the community.
“I think Christ calls us to see Him in our neighbor, and these children seem to be in danger of being forgotten and falling into harm’s way,” Pennell said. “I would hope that the young people we work with may learn that there are people they can trust. I would also hope they might meet Jesus in us and therefore get some appreciation of a different view of life.”