I am not a statistic.
I should be one. I should be caught in the cycle of poverty, addiction and crime. Growing up I had an incarcerated father who struggled with alcoholism. I was raised by a single mother who became victim to the power of prescription pills. I felt voiceless. I felt alone and unimportant. I needed people to care for me.
How am I not a statistic?
I broke the cycle by having a good education, caring teachers and positive role models in my life. When I grew old enough to advocate for myself I reached out to people who could fill in the places I needed. There were many people who lent a helping hand in my life. I stayed in other people’s homes, did my homework in little shops downtown and was fed by local pizza and bagel shop owners. As cliche as it might sound, it takes a village to raise a child. If it wasn’t for the people in my community, my village, I am certain I wouldn’t have made it this far.
I am not an isolated case. The State of Rhode Island has 3,342 (2011 Rhode Island Kids Count Fact Book) children who have an incarcerated parent. We can’t turn our backs on these children because they need someone to advocate for them.
My purpose is to give them a voice and a chance. They need someone to care for them. I am so thankful for Rhode Island Sponsoring Education (RISE), a local organization whose mission is to empower children of incarceration like I once was.
RISE is a non-profit organization that provides educational and mentoring opportunities to children of incarcerated of formerly incarcerated parents. According to the organization children with an incarcerated parent are more vulnerable and present specific needs that often get overlooked. They are more likely to feel disconnected from the community and often times are at risk for poor academic achievement. Children of incarcerated parents are 7 times more likely than their peers to become involved in the criminal justice system. Others can help break the cycle by being proactive and stepping into one of these children’s lives.
RISE started fifteen years ago in September of 1997 when two Brown University physicians began working inside the women’s prison. Their observations drove them to build an organization to combat the intergenerational cycle of poverty, violence and addiction that faces a child who has an incarcerated parent. RISE began on the premise that if children of an incarcerated parent gained access to a private education it would foster resilience. A smaller private school meant each child had more of an opportunity to foster positive relationships and that those relationships would help each child make it through high school.
The intergenerational cycle of poverty is almost impossible to break without a high school education. Statistics clearly show that high school drops outs are more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, receive public assistance, serve jail time, be divorced, and be single parents who have children who drop out of themselves. Currently, RISE provides scholarships to more than thirty private schools in the state such as St. Raphael Academy and St. Mary Academy. Education is the key.
Along with the scholarship program they offer a mentoring program. Children as young as 7 years old are matched with a mentor. Presently, there are 126 children matched with a mentor but sadly 60 children on the waiting list. A mentor must be able to commit to spending at least 6 hours a month with their mentee. The mentor is encouraged to take their mentee out into the community and to explore what the community has to offer like events, parks and attractions. It’s about giving these kids opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise had without a mentor.
Jonny Skye, the executive director, reports that RISE only has the capacity to serve a small amount of their target population. They have also hit a plateau in community growth. She stated, “We really want to evolve into an organization that is a center of expertise for the State of Rhode Island on how to empower children of incarcerated parents.”
On the last Wednesday night of each month RISE hosts an evening out at the Art Bar. It’s a fun night offering conversation, appetizers and free music. The proceeds from this event go directly to the organizations mission. It’s a great way to meet the people behind the scenes and network. So come on down and say hello to Jonny Sky and Kaitlin Fiorenzano.
As a community we can’t turn a blind eye to this population. We must make the world better for everyone in order to make it better for our own children.
The office of RISE is located on the first floor of:
143 Prairie Avenue
Providence, RI 02905