In a press conference on Sept. 13, Robert J. Polito, director of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, endowed a grant check to Assemblies of God (A/G) Charities and the U.S Missions Chaplaincy Department to support the SHAPE project, a program aiming to mentor children of inmates. The funds will be distributed in a period of three years in a total amount of $450,000.
According to A/G, children of prisoners are considered to be at "high-risk" for incarceration, and they are six to seven times more likely to be incarcerated as adults. Therefore, SHAPE project is created to keep these children from following their parents' paths.
According to Chaplain Mike Castle, who is the interim director of the new SHAPE program, the name SHAPE is chosen pertaining to the purpose of the program itself, which is to “shape” the lives of young people.
"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," Castle said.
Currently, there are 1.5 to 2 million children in the United States who have a parent incarcerated and are living in poverty. Even though there are numerous social programs made available to these children, Castle believes 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.
While agreeing with Castle’ viewpoints, director Polito confirmed the significance of a faith-based program and how vital it is for churches to partake in such compassion ministries. “We cannot do it without the churches. 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."
Castle also indicated that SHAPE is being viewed by the Chaplaincy Department as a pioneering program which will eventually gain support and funding in the future to become a national ministry.
The way the mentoring program will work is that a person will turn an interest card into their church, providing his/her backgrounds and interests. Once the church approves it, SHAPE will match the applicant with a child who has similar interests.
In addition, the A/G report indicated that the Chaplaincy Department will be coordinating its efforts with the assistance of public organizations and other programs that have common goals such as Prison Fellowship, and Missouri Department of Corrections. The ultimate goal is to influence the lives of unfortunate children whose parents are imprisoned, to give them a sense of living a meaningful life in society.
For more information about the SHAPE project or to offer support, e-mail the Chaplaincy Department at [email protected]