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.”

According 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.”

A Statewide Affair
BBBS of Eastern Missouri officially kicked-off their Amachi program in October 2003, although pre-planning began in August immediately after the 14-person Missouri delegation attended Amachi training and follow-up debriefing sessions in Philadelphia. The delegation included the governor, attorney general and chief of police, as well as numerous pastors and BBBS of Eastern Missouri employees.

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.

“There 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.”

Getting Churches Takes Time
Although BBBS of Eastern Missouri has had exceptional success working with the DOC, partnering with faith-based institutions has been more of a challenge. For instance, James-Hatter said they currently are working with three churches that are on the brink of being great partnerships, but because of scheduling conflicts with the pastors’ travel schedule and church events like revival, the partnerships will probably not come to fruition until August. BBBS of Eastern Missouri had their first conversation with the churches in May.

“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.


Fall 2004