A unique agency in Bridgeport needs your help supporting youngsters in a particularly vulnerable situation. Champions Mentoring, an offshoot of Family ReEntry, provides a variety of support services like mentoring to local youngsters who have a parent or close relative in prison.
“Children of prisoners generally experience family trauma and loss, as well as a sense of stigma. Unfortunately, these children also have a higher chance of becoming involved in the criminal justice system as they get older,” said Champions Director Tina Banas. “Champions provides an opportunity for the children to engage in caring relationships with supporting adults and they begin to build trust, improve social and communication skills as well as develop resources for daily life such as positive conflict resolution skills.”
Right now, Champions supports about 15 youngsters in the greater Bridgeport area. However, the need for mentors is great; Banas says the waiting list is about 40 long! Banas says they are looking for mentors ages 18 and older to provide support to these children each week.
“It is so important to us that we are able to place as many youngsters as possible in positive, trusting situations with adult mentors,” said Banas. “Over time, we see that the children tend to gain greater confidence and interpersonal skills, show improvement in and/or maintain school attendance & academics, develop strength in the face of adversity and generate a stronger sense of hope.”
Banas says they currently have mentors from all over the greater Bridgeport area as well as Norwalk, Wilton, Ridgefield and New Canaan. If you’re interested in participating, the process is pretty simple. After an initial application & criminal background screening, volunteers participate in a 2 to 3 hour training program. Given their preference for age group, mentors are then matched to a child and visits take place once a week at the child’s school during the lunch hour.
Banas says they are working hard to match as many youngsters with mentors as they can before the start of the school year. While the assignment may be challenging for the mentors at times, Banas says the mentors do have support along the way.
“We couldn’t do this for the community without our volunteers,” says Banas. “So it’s incredibly important to us that we offer them support and encouragement throughout the process so they don’t feel isolated or alone navigating the sometimes difficult situations that can arise with these youngsters.”
If you’re interested, you can contact Tina Banas directly at TinaBanas@familyreentry.org. As always, you can find more information on Champions and other volunteer opportunities throughout Fairfield County by visiting our website, VolunteerSquare.com, anytime!
A quick side note, Champions is in need of in-kind donations of school supplies for children ages 6 to 16. Donations can be brought to the Champions Office located at 126 Washington Avenue in Bridgeport.