View Full Version : Coast's year-old initiative pairs kids with mentors

08-01-2005, 04:32 PM
Program a dream come true
Coast's year-old initiative pairs kids with mentors

GULFPORT - Anissa McGary, 9, likes picnics, swimming and basketball. Luckily, Brian Pearse, director of the Dare To Dream mentoring program, found a mentor with similar passions for the unusually tall girl whose father has been in jail for a little over two years.

After her first meeting with her mentor about two months ago, Anissa came home, burst through the door and said to her mother, Tiffany McGary, "we're so much alike."

McGary, of D'Iberville, was glad to hear it. Dare to Dream was a godsend for her, she said. In addition to being a single mother to Anissa and her 5-year-old son Adrian Fairley, who also has a mentor through the program, she is pursuing a premed degree while working full time as a nurse.

The Dare to Dream program, which is based in Gulfport but serves the three coastal Mississippi counties, is rounding out its first year of operation. Pearse said the program is still struggling to gain its footing as it tries to find good matches for mentors and children with one or more jailed parents.

The 44-year-old ex-Air Force weatherman's job is never the more urgent, either.

There are more than 2.5 million children in the United States with one or more parent in prison, according to Department of Health and Human Services statistics. In addition, children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to engage in bad behavior than those whose parents are not in jail.

To combat this trend, President Bush in 2003 proposed a three-year, $150-million initiative to help children like Anissa through his Faith-Based and Community Initiative program. Last year, Dare to Dream was one of the many programs nationwide to be awarded part of the $36,719,400 given out overall.

Even though money is not necessarily a problem for the program, he said finding mentors to match a child's needs is difficult.

There are 36 children registered, but so far Pearse only has 15 matches, despite having 56 adults signed up. Pearse gave two reasons for the low number of matches.

First, he likes to link mentors and kids geographically and by their interests in order to make the job as easy for the mentors as possible and so the children have as good an experience as Anissa.

Second, there is a rigorous screening process for mentors which includes a criminal background check, a sex offender registry check, and a home visit to "look for red flags," Pearse said.

Pearse said he recruits potential kids through prison chaplains, school principals and Angel Tree, a Christmastime toy distribution program for the same kinds of kids he is looking to help. He said he expects to get a lot more recruits as the school year starts.

While most of the mentors he finds now come from churches, he said that being religious is not vital and that he's mostly looking, "for people with good moral character." Even though he has many adults signed up now, he said he still wants many more.

"I'd rather have the people waiting than the children waiting," Pearse said.

Dare to Dream
For information: 864-0788.

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