Greater Charlotte Discusses Its Challenges and Success

Most parents can’t imagine being separated from their child for one year, let alone the child’s entire childhood. Unfortunately, this is the reality that many incarcerated parents face everyday. But the Amachi program brings a kind of hope to parents who are serving lengthy prison sentences. After hearing about the program, one father in North Carolina didn’t wait for Amachi to visit the prison where he is incarcerated. He wrote a letter to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Charlotte asking for a mentor for his son.

“He obviously wanted to be involved and he obviously cared and so we wanted to keep him engaged so he could still be a parent from behind bars,” said Monifa Drayton, Amachi project coordinator of BBBS of Greater Charlotte. The agency has subsequently matched the inmate’s son and periodically sends him updates on how the match is going.

Locating the Children
Drayton was surprised to receive the inmate’s letter because the agency has had many challenges working with the prison system. The warden insisted that BBBS of Greater Charlotte arrange visits to the prisons through the social workers. “I honestly think the social workers are just overworked and really just didn’t have time to take on another project, although they really wouldn’t have to do much,” said Drayton. “They appeared to be very receptive and very enthusiastic about the program but when it came down to actually getting names from the prisoners they never followed through.” She added, “We did not have one application from the prison system.”

Despite these obstacles, the agency had 128 matches as of July 31, 2004. The majority of children referrals came from Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. BBBS of Greater Charlotte received 1000 names from Angel Tree, which they used for a mass mailing that received a good response. Also, BBBS of Greater Charlotte repeatedly appeared on radio shows and other media to promote the Amachi program.

The Charlotte Model
BBBS of Greater Charlotte participated in the first Amachi Training Institute, which provided them with a foundation and skeleton model. Armed with this knowledge, they developed an Amachi team that consisted of a part-time Amachi recruitment specialist, a part-time Amachi marketing director, a full-time Amachi project coordinator and four full-time case managers—who are assigned five churches each. Drayton believes the team operates so effectively because the case managers work solely on Amachi. “The four case managers that we have are very dedicated and very enthusiastic about Amachi, and that way they can focus all their attention on Amachi,” said Drayton.

In addition to the BBBS of Greater Charlotte team members, the agency works with church volunteer coordinators (CVCs) from each church. CVCs receive a quarterly stipend based on the number of volunteers they recruit from their church, an arrangement Drayton advises other agencies to explore carefully. “Don’t pay people before they produce,” said Drayton. BBBS of Greater Charlotte learned this lesson the hard way. “We paid churches and church volunteer coordinators in the beginning before they produced anything, and we’re finding that we spent a lot of money on people who didn’t produce any volunteers”—money that tightly funded programs can’t afford to waste.

When beginning an Amachi program, Drayton encourages new participants to allow about four to six months to get organized. She said a goal of around 150 matches is what’s most realistic for the first year. “You just really have to allow for time just to start up and make your connections,” said Drayton. “That takes time, cultivating relationships and building people’s trust in the program.”

According to Drayton, one of the keys to having a successful program is making sure the staff is aware of the culture of the churches. “You have to build a relationship before [the churches] will even listen to you,” she said. And don’t be fooled by the size of the church. Mega churches frequently are not mega volunteer producers. Drayton said many of the agency’s smaller church partners have surpassed the mega churches with numbers of volunteers. However, volunteer management is just one component of the larger picture. “Make sure that each member of the Amachi team is aware of their job and how it impacts their team as a whole, the CVCs, the pastor, everyone,” said Drayton. “It takes everyone to make the program a success. If one person isn’t doing their job, then it’s not going to work.”


Fall 2004