Missouri Embraces St. Louis Amachi
Imagine that near strangers gave you and your Amachi mentee a $100 check—to spend together doing something fun—just because. Sound too good to be true? Well, that’s exactly what happened to an Amachi match in St. Louis. In the envelope with the $100 check were the pictures a young couple had taken with the Amachi match while waiting in line for a ride at an amusement park. A simple half-hour conversation with the match left a lasting impression on the couple. The match was expecting the pictures the couple had promised to send, but the $100 check was a complete surprise. The couple’s note read, “We just want you to go have a good time on us because we think it’s incredible the relationship that the two of you have.”
to Becky James-Hatter, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of
Eastern Missouri, “The power of the relationship that an adult can
have with a child is magical, and they figured it out while standing in
line. If strangers understand the importance of (Amachi), certainly people
who are educated and presented this program will think this is great.”
James-Hatter attributes much of the strength of the Amachi program to the sound relationship between the Department of Corrections (DOC) and BBBS of Eastern Missouri. The governor facilitated this relationship, starting with the goal of capturing important demographic information about prisoners’ children upfront. Today, when any prisoner enters Missouri’s state prison system, at the point of processing, they are asked if they have a child and if they want that child to have a Big Brother or Big Sister. The prison processing staff received in-depth training from BBBS of Eastern Missouri on the Amachi program and keeps a variety of information about the program on hand to distribute to prisoners. In addition, BBBS of Eastern Missouri makes periodic visits to the prison, reaching out to those who were already in the system before the Amachi program began.
“We have a really strong relationship with the Department of Corrections over and beyond just giving us access to the prisoners,” said James-Hatter. BBBS of Eastern Missouri submits a monthly report to the Department of Corrections on the status of referrals they’ve received from prisoners. They also send a summary of additional information that the agency needs from the DOC; the DOC then responds to the request accordingly.
is an ongoing back and forth for us to understand the prison system and
its uniqueness and for the Department of Corrections to understand who
we are, what we do, how we do it and how important that is,” said
James-Hatter. “It is a true partnership.”
“I wish I would have understood that sometimes the selling cycle can be up to six months,” said James-Hatter. “Yes, you have some low hanging fruit that you’ve had some relationships with for a long time and they get it, but once you pick that, you’ve got to start nurturing (relationships) well in advance, and you have to help your staff not get discouraged.”
Despite these challenges, the Amachi program is going well. As of July 31, 2004, they have 119 matches.