Photo by Beth Donze | CLARION HERALD
Kristina Gibson, standing, recently gave prospective mentors assembled at St. David an overview of Isaiah 43, the Catholic Charities program she directs.
St. David Parish in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward is the latest site to host the outreach program “Isaiah 43,” an archdiocesan endeavor that aims to strengthen families by providing caring adult mentors for young people and spiritually based parenting classes for those in need of skills and support as they raise their children and grandchildren.
Isaiah 43, named after the scriptural passage that reminds the faithful that God sees each of his children as “precious,” was developed by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans in response to the Family Prayer (also known as “The New Battle of New Orleans”), introduced by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Ash Wednesday 2011.
With its emphasis on nurturing the family unit, Isaiah 43 specifically addresses the parts of the prayer that ask God to “Bless parents that they may form their children in faith,” and “Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time.”
Prayer and action vital
“It’s very important to continue to pray, but we also have to become engaged in actively doing something to strengthen and protect families,” said Kristina Gibson, program director for Isaiah 43. “Isaiah 43 provides an opportunity for people in the community to become actively involved in these issues that are affecting our community.”
Although a start-up date has yet to be set for the parent-education component of Isaiah 43 at St. David, Catholics and non-Catholics from the 9th Ward area who are interested in becoming a volunteer mentor are invited to attend a Sept. 8 training session to begin that process. The training, which will be provided at no cost, will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. David’s Marais Street building. Snacks, lunch and drinks will be provided.
On Aug. 21, eight prospective mentors, most of them long-time St. David parishioners, gathered in the parish hall to learn about the program’s expectations and the steps they must complete before being matched with a child or teen in need of a supportive role model outside his immediate family circle.
Paying it forward
St. David parishioner Betty Stewart said she wants to become a mentor because she benefited from people who lifted her up in her own formative years.
“I want to help young people be all they can be, because some of them are not striving for excellence,” said Stewart, a secretary. “They are in that ‘status quo mode’ because of that peer pressure piece of growing up. I want them to dare to be different, to be the person God destined them to be.”
Stewart called St. David Church a post-Katrina “beacon of hope” in the 9th Ward for people of all faiths, and that message needs to spread.
“I find that our young people are not being pushed enough to go further; they’re not looking at the whole world (of opportunity) that is now open to them,” Stewart said. “You can be anything you want to be. There are no limitations. If I can encourage someone to go for their dreams, that’s what I am going to do.”
To qualify for Isaiah 43, mentors must be at least 25, commit to serving at least one year, and meet with their young person at least four hours each month. Interaction between the mentor and his or her “mentee” is a combination of both one-on-one time and periodic group get-togethers hosted by St. David, the latter designed to build fellowship among all participants. How the mentor and young person spend their one-on-one time is left up to each duo. Activities can range from helping with schoolwork, to attending recreational and cultural events, to simply conversing.
Looking for support
St. David parishioner Marie Hollingsworth attended the informational meeting to request mentors for each of her three grandchildren – ages 11, 13 and 14 – whom she has been raising alone since their mother died in 2007 and her own husband passed away in 2008.
“A lot of times my (older) grandson doesn’t want to talk to me. He wants to talk to a man,” Hollingsworth said. “I need somebody outside of myself, to help me support them as I raise them.”
In addition to completing the five-hour training session, prospective mentors must undergo the comprehensive screening process demanded of all Catholic Charities volunteers, as well as the safe environment training required of all archdiocesan employees and volunteers whose ministry includes working with minors. The screening process includes a criminal background check, review of the participant’s driving record and insurance, a personal interview by Isaiah 43 staff and the provision of three references, one of which must be from a priest, minister or other spiritual director.
The process is designed to glean insight into each mentor’s interest, and helps the Isaiah 43 staff to best match each mentor with a young person.
Gibson said the program’s other facet – an eight-week-long parenting classes – will not begin at St. David until early 2013. Geared to the parents of children ages 4-14, the classes offer sessions on parenting styles, the power of encouragement, building cooperation, fostering empathy, praying creatively, conflict resolution, effective discipline without corporal punishment, and cultivating a spirit of forgiveness.
“Spirituality and prayer are at the core of what we’re doing, especially in the parenting classes,” Gibson notes. “We’re not just talking about effective discipline techniques, we’re also looking at what Scripture tell us about discipline. What does Jesus teach us about discipline?”
The classes build in time for prayer and reflection, and encourage parents to practice their newly gained skills through take-home activities.
St. David is the latest Catholic parish to become a host site for Isaiah 43. The program is also in various stages of implementation at the following locations:
➤ The mentoring program at Holy Family in Franklinton has been in effect since January, with 11 mentors paired with children of middle-school through early-high school age. Later this month, the parish will initiate its second mentoring group and first series of parenting classes.
➤ St. Peter Claver in New Orleans began a mentoring program in July composed of five mentor-child pairs. Parenting classes are set to begin this fall.
➤ St. Joseph the Worker in Marrero, which already had a mentoring program for young men in place, will continue to receive support from Isaiah 43 facilitators. Parenting classes will begin this fall.
➤ St. Rita in New Orleans will begin offering parenting classes this month, recruiting from interested parents whose children attend St. Rita Elementary School. Isaiah 43 hopes to launch a mentoring program there in early 2013.
➤ Sacred Heart Parish in Lacombe, the next prospective site for Isaiah 43, is in the “awareness-building” phase, Gibson said.
Nashawn Butler, Isaiah 43’s mentoring coordinator, said she and her colleagues have received “very positive reports” from parents and teachers who interact with the 11 young people mentored at the Holy Family Parish site. Butler recently got to see Holy Family’s program in action during a group activity dubbed “Who Am I?” Activities included having the children draw or write details about themselves on a large canvas, as their mentors looked on.
“They genuinely care for one another – it was really great to see,” Butler said. “I just feel like if we can support these kids, to show them that somebody else outside of their family cares for them, we are going to see huge benefits.”
“Isaiah 43 reminds us that every one of us is precious in God’s eyes; we’re valued,” she said. “That’s something we really try to make our parents, our youth and our families understand: Your life is of value, God loves you, and we love you.”
Prospective mentors from the 9th Ward area, including those who could not attend the introductory meeting at St. David, are invited to take the Sept. 8 training course. For more information on becoming mentor, receiving mentoring services or enrolling in parenting classes, call Gibson at 310-8772 or email her at email@example.com. The website is www.isaiah43.org.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.