The Assemblies of God (A/G) Charities group on Monday received a grant totaling $450,000 from the U.S. Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to help run the A/G SHAPE Mentoring Program – a program that aims to socially, psychologically and spiritually mentor the children of incarcerated parents.
The grant, which will be given in three increments of $150,000 per year to the A/G Chaplaincy Department, will be the main source of funds for the three-year $600,000 project.
According to Robert J. Polito, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the grant to the A/G was part of the overall $45.6 million in grants distributed by the government for faith-based programs.
"We are excited about this partnership . . . we know what the church can do with just a little bit of help,” said Polito. "We cannot do it without the churches.”
According to A/G Chaplain Mike Castle, the interim director for the SHAPE program, the grant will significantly help the efforts of SHAPE. Castle explained that SHAPE is an absolutely necessary ministries, since the children of prisoners are “six to seven times fore likely to be incarcerated as adults, five times more likely to enter the foster-care system and a vast majority live in poverty.”
"We chose the name 'SHAPE' because we now have the opportunity to shape the lives of so many young people," Castle explained. "Currently, there are 1.5 to 2 million children in the United States who have a parent incarcerated. We believe that SHAPE will bring to children what social programs alone cannot bring: the faith community augments the social programs, by identifying the spiritual needs of individuals."
Castle additionally noted that the A/G’s SHAPE is viewed as a “pilot program” to be used initially in Missouri’s Greene and Christian counties; the program, Castle hopes, will then be replicated in other counties and A/G districts throughout the country.
"The exciting thing about this program is it will ripple," Castle said. "Our ministry focus continues to expand from the incarcerated, to their children, and eventually the whole family. This is an incredible blessing to inmates -- knowing that their kids have a stable influence in their lives while they are incarcerated."
According to Chaplain Al Worthley, director of the Chaplaincy Department, the SHAPE program allows brings the opportunity for a joint recovery and mentoring effort on the part of faith-based and secular groups.
"This is an exciting opportunity to positively affect the lives of children often marginalized by society," Worthley said. "The faith community can model through mentors the values formed by faith that have made our country great. We have the opportunity to bring the faith community, law enforcement, social service agencies and community organizations into a collaborative relationship to meet real human needs. What is so exciting is that faith communities with their vast human resources and compassion are invited to help."
Castle agreed with Worthley, saying the SHAPE program opens new doors for multi-tiered efforts. According to Castle, the program is a multi-denominational effort, although the A/G Chaplaincy will oversee the entire program.
"This program, will in a lot of ways, be set up like Big Brothers, Big Sisters," Castle explained. "However, we are relying upon churches to support SHAPE and provide volunteer leaders and mentors."
To become a mentor, Castle said the volunteer must fill out an interest card and turn it into their church. The church leadership will subsequently give the recommendation for the person to be a mentor to the chaplaincy program. From there, the person will undergo screening tests, training drills and finally be matched with a child who has similar interests.
"Being a mentor only takes one hour a week to spend with a child, doing anything from homework to going to a ball game," Castle said. "These kids have been hurt and damaged . . . only through solid, constant relationships are they going to learn to trust and gain what very well may be life-long benefits."
Worthley added that the ministry will help impact the lives of hundreds of children, as well as help shape the future of the holistic society.
"We have a number of significant challenges before us," Worthley said, "but I believe this ministry will not only change the lives of hundreds and even thousands of children, but have a profound affect upon our society's future. Imagine the impact SHAPE centers could have across the nation -- instead of children 'destined' for prison, they could instead be destined to be productive members of society and the Church."
According to the A/G, the Chaplaincy program needs to raise $50,000 a year in kind donations in order to make the program a $200,000-a-year investment. The first SHAPE program will launch with 75 children by October, and at least 300 by the end of the third year.