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A holiday miracle for children of incarcerated parents

December 24, 2010

by Anthony Papa

Terrance Stevens earns rapt attention from young and old when he speaks.
Terrance Stevens, who is paralyzed and fully reliant on a power wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, had prayed for a miracle. The program he founded and directs, In Arms Reach, Inc. (IAR), helps children of incarcerated parents and was about to close down because of a lack of funding. All he could think of was the happy faces of the many children who had passed through his mentoring program and the sadness he would feel if the program would be forced to shut down.

His dream was to help the many children of New York state prisoners who live in his Harlem community and had been left with a great void in their lives. He knew that the stigma of having an incarcerated parent coupled with an unstable care arrangement only exacerbates the trauma a child suffers. Statistics show that this can lead to a host of negative effects, including poor academic achievement, drug and alcohol use, and involvement with the juvenile and adult criminal justice system.

But then his prayers were answered in November when In Arms Reach was awarded funding under the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program (MCP) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Children and Family Services. IAR received a $600,000 grant over three years that allows the organization to enhance its services and staff in order to provide its one-on-one mentoring program to the Harlem community.

“We are extremely excited to have this opportunity,” declares Stevens. “Over the past seven years, we have worked to effect change in the lives of our Harlem children. I am proud to say that today we are one step closer. This funding gives us the ability to effectively increase our mentor-mentee matches of our children and volunteers. Matching funds are required or else IAR runs the risk of losing the award.

These are some of the children of Harlem who count on In Arms Reach.
“We look forward to playing a positive role in the city’s call to community service. We are challenging New York City community leaders to step forward with a commitment to assist our fundraising and mentor recruitment efforts,” he says. Supporters of the program have included music mogul Russell Simmons and football great Carl Banks, who is currently IAR board chairman.

According to the New York State Department of Corrections (NYSDOC), nearly 50 percent of all New York state inmates under custody are from the New York City area. In addition, nearly 60 percent of all NYSDOC inmates have reported having one or more children.

Under the MCP grant award, In Arms Reach will continue to focus its outreach on the substantial number of children of prisoners throughout the Harlem community. IAR diligently recruits volunteers to provide one-on-one mentoring with youth ages 7 to 18 who have an incarcerated parent. Through providing exposure to positive role models, In Arms Reach hopes to achieve its motto, “Every child deserves a chance.”

Stevens exclaimed, “Although we are required to match 25 percent of the federal dollars, it’s going to be a great holiday for our kids knowing that the program still has a fighting chance to stay open as the organization seeks donors. I understand how critical this organization is to an extremely vulnerable and large population of children.”

About In Arms Reach

In Arms Reach Inc (IAR) is a non-profit organization, which focuses on mentoring at risk youth and children with incarcerated parent(s). Located on the campus of City College of New York, IAR provides one-on-one mentoring, after-school tutoring, college preparation courses, creative development through art and music and free prison visitation services. For more information or to make a donation to In Arms Reach, write to In Arms Reach, P.O. Box 559, Triborough Station, New York, NY 10035, visit www.inarmsreach.net or call IAR at (917) 939-5349.

Anthony Papa is manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, 70 West 36th St., 16th Floor, New York, NY 10018, www.drugpolicy.org. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Anthony Papa.

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