Konnect is looking for volunteer mentors

KONNECT, a mentoring program for children with incarcerated parents, is looking for mentors in the Clermont County area.

Established in 2004, the vision of the KONNECT mentoring program is to develop a community that will support those children with one or both parents incarcerated by providing guidance and positive adult role models.

“When the program began in 2004, we initially focused on Hamilton and Butler counties,” said program director Tammy Barnett. “We started receiving so many inquiries from Clermont County that we proposed to the federal government an idea to expand our scope of services into the county.”

KONNECT, which is a 501c3 federally funded development program through the Department of Health and Human Services, is equipped to provide mentoring to children between the ages of four and eighteen.

“These are arbitrary ages of children based upon where we felt could make the most impact,” said Barnett. “Ohio has the seventh largest prison population in the country and it is estimated that more than six thousand children in Clermont, Hamilton, and Butler counties have at least one parent incarcerated in Ohio’s prisons. These kids need our help.”

According to KONNECT community outreach coordinator Robert Downs, President Bush set aside the discretionary funds to implement the KONNECT program for what he considers to be invisible children in 2004.

“This was important because it is very difficult to locate the children who need our help,” he said. “They are considered to be invisible because there is not an existing pool of resources or a database that identifies which children have an incarcerated parent.”

Helping the KONNECT program identify and locate the mentees is the biggest challenge they face.

“We work closely with and have tried to master relationships with youth workers, churches, school counselors, and other community agencies and organizations in identifying children,” said Downs. “We then present the program to the child’s caregiver or whoever is taking care of the child (usually foster parents, grandparents, or other family members).”

According to Barnett, a primary goal of KONNECT is to keep children from following in the footsteps of an incarcerated parent through positive adult mentors.

“The unsettling statistics show us that a child who has an incarcerated parent is to some degree more likely to follow down the same path because it becomes an environment that they are used to or that they become accustomed to,” she said. “We want to provide intervention and improve the outcome of these children’s lives in important areas such as academics, social interaction, self-esteem, and time management. Our program accomplishes that.”

KONNECT is now looking for Clermont County residents to become mentors to help them make a difference in these children’s lives.

“We are looking for caring adults who are willing to commit one hour, once a week, for one year,” said Barnett. “Currently, we do not have enough mentors to match the mentees so we are recruiting in Clermont County. There will always be incarceration, but should we as a community have our children accepting the burden of their parents to the point where they do not have a life themselves? Mentoring is a rewarding and meaningful thing to do; the program has been very successful and our mentees have told us how much of a difference it has made in their lives.”

Barnett said that a few of the key responsibilities of being a mentor are to encourage and coach the mentee to build skills, confidence, and self-esteem, to guide the mentee in the establishment and achievement of personal goals, to help the mentee increase communication and social skills, to help the mentee develop talents, abilities, hobbies, and any other interests, assist with homework, to assist in decision making, and to set a positive example by demonstrating healthy ways to express emotions and feelings.

“Sometimes it takes a whole county to raise a child,” Downs said. “We are encouraging everyone to help us; the program works.”

Konnect will is planning a luncheon in Clermont County for agencies that may be able to use its services. The date and location of this event have not yet been determined.

For more information or to become a mentor, contact the KONNECT office at (513) 858-8573.