COLUMBIA — Community members and supporters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri met Friday morning to kick off "100 Mentors in 100 Days," a campaign to celebrate the organization's 40 years in Columbia.
The organization also introduced its new theme, "Change the Way Children Grow Up in Columbia," to the group of about 50 civic, business and community leaders.
"We wanted (the theme) to be beyond getting more mentors or growing the program," said Lisa Clements, the president of the board of directors. "We wanted it to be about a broader community response to changing kids' lives."
W. Wilson Goode, a former mayor of Philadelphia, spoke to the crowd about Amachi, a program within Big Brothers Big Sisters for children who have a parent in prison. Goode founded the program in 2000 after meeting three generations of men at a prison in Pennsylvania.
"Incarceration is generational," he said. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are more than 1.7 million children who have a parent in prison.
Goode founded Amachi to reduce the likelihood that these children will end up incarcerated like their parents.
"If we do nothing, as many as 70 percent still end up in prison themselves," Goode said.
In the eight years of the program, he has seen academic improvements in two-thirds of children who have spent just one hour every week or two hours twice a month with a mentor for a year. He said the students improve grades, behavior and attendance in school.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is seeking mentors to help the 1,156 children of Boone County who have one or more parents in prison.
"Who knows what God can bring us from these amazing children when we intervene in their lives," Goode said.
There are 200 mid-Missouri children on a waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters. The greatest need is for male volunteers. In 2007, 60 percent of "littles" were boys, but only 40 percent of "bigs" were men.
To find out more about mentoring, go to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can call 874-3677.