Federal funding runs out for mentoring children of inmates

BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Modified: August 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm •  Published: August 1, 2011

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma lost the last two years of its federal funding for a program that pairs mentors with children of incarcerated parents.

Cuts to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services have eaten away $40 million in funding nationwide for mentoring children of incarcerated parents, also called Amachi, said Sharla Owens, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma will have received about $500,000 of its three-year, $1.6 million grant when funding is cut off Saturday, Oct. 1, Owens said. The nonprofit uses the grants to hire extra staff members to match children in need with mentors across the state.

“This is going to be tragedy if we don't stand up and do something today,” Owens said. “We're going to lose an entire generation in Oklahoma.”

Helping children of inmates is especially important in Oklahoma, Owens said. Oklahoma has the fourth highest per capita incarceration rate in the country and the highest lockup rate for women.

About 600 children with at least one parent in prison are partnered with mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma at any one time, Owens said.

The grant constituted about 20 percent of the agency's annual budget, Owens said.

When officials found out about the cuts several weeks ago, the agency bumped up its annual giving campaign from December to July.

They're hoping donors will step in and fill in the funding gap.

‘A really angry child'

Jennifer Ennis, 24, said she was heartbroken when she heard about the funding cuts.

She works for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, but she was also a child who needed a mentor when one of her parents went to prison.

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Donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma can be mailed to 5840 S Memorial Drive, Suite 105, Tulsa, OK 74133. Donations can also be made at www.bbbsok.org. For more information, call (918) 576-6400.

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