By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
Judy Davis was disheartened when she heard that in-person visitation at Gainesville State School was being temporarily suspended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While she agreed with the limitations for the sake of public health, she worried she could no longer deliver a promised sketchpad to a youth she was mentoring, nor would she be able to see him.
And then, snap! She realized that through a combination of old and new technologies, she could navigate this new reality. She popped over to the local post office to mail the sketchpad to her artistic mentee. She tossed in another pad, this one with a grid, for another mentee, thinking maybe now would be a good time for him to discover drawing.
Next, she called Robin Motley, Community Relations Coordinator at Gainesville, and learned she’d be able to video chat with her mentees via Google Duo. After another call to her daughter, Davis had the app installed and had visited with each of “her” boys.
“You never know if you’ll be that one important person,” said Davis, a retiree who has mentored at Gainesville State School since 2000. One caring person can help another to turn their life around, she said, noting that many of the youth she’s mentored come from homes beset by addiction, neglect or domestic violence.
“The life that some of these kids have, they really do break your heart,” she said, explaining that she tries to help the youth envision a positive path forward, free of the dysfunction.
“My advice is ‘you only have to make one right decision, and that’s the next one. So make sure the next decision you make is the right decision for your future’,” she said.
Davis plans to stay in touch during this period of social distancing to show the youth that mentors will be there for them, though she suspects the youth may actually adjust to the changes in routine more easily than the mentors.
“This is new to them, but it’s like a different chapter in their book. For the rest of us, it’s like a whole new book.”
McFadden Ranch Halfway House
Like Davis, Lincoln Carroll was dismayed when he learned that mentors with Must Care, the non-profit group he founded, would not be able to visit McFadden Ranch Halfway House in Flower Mound for the foreseeable future.
While the suspension of visitation was necessary, the change meant that on Tuesday nights, the music would literally stop. The program Carroll had initiated, led by local music educator Jamal Umer, would be on hiatus. More than a dozen youth had been participating in the informal classes, with Umer coaching them in rap composition and mixing.
“I think that it’s one of their favorites,” Carroll said. “We hate that Umer cannot go there now, but we fully understand.” Carroll is working on a possible work-around to restart the classes using video conferencing or YouTube. In the meantime, he sent the youth at McFadden a gift of some $200 worth of board games and art supplies.
“We like helping. We’re blessed in different ways and are fortunate enough to be able to give back and happy to help,” said Carroll, a financial services expert who lives in Frisco with his wife and 12-year-old son.
He founded We Care to work with at-risk youth in schools and juvenile detention.
“I grew up for 17 years and I did not have a father in my life,” he said. “I always wanted to give back. Our mission is to give a ‘father’ to the fatherless. A lot of problems in society stem from a father not being around.”
Evins Regional Juvenile Center
I have you and your Mama and brothers in prayer, M. . . . Stay strong with your goal of that purple shirt, if you can make it. You have to be smart and think before you act - and you'll see that everything will work out for you. I am sending you another copy of how to pray the Rosary - it is very important! . . . Saludos!! – excerpt of a letter to a youth from a volunteer mentor
Five-hundred miles across the state, volunteers at Evins Regional Juvenile Center, in Edinburg, share that understanding that boys need father figures. Sometimes, mentors can help with that, says Ernesto Duran, a volunteer with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.
Duran’s group serves Catholic youth at Evins with one-on-one mentoring and also delivers a meal once a month to a wider group of young men. A Baptist mentoring group shares this effort, serving a special monthly meal to the remaining portion of Evins’ youth.
After learning about the visitation restrictions to curb COVID-19, the Diocese volunteers decided to begin writing letters to maintain ties to their mentees. Each volunteer will be writing to three to six boys, so that the 100 to 120 youth to whom they normally serve meals will each receive correspondence.
“We’re telling them not to worry, that we’re here, and not to worry about the virus. Even out here in ‘the free’, as they call it, we’re sheltering in our own houses. So we feel what they feel sometimes,” Duran said.
Reflecting on this time in which people must take strong actions to protect others, Duran said the mentors and youth may even be building stronger bonds as they share their thoughts on paper.
“When we mentor on the religious side, we only reach some of the boys (who ask for religious mentoring and training) but right now, we’re reaching a larger group,” he said. “We’re trying to motivate them to have a little patience and just giving a little bit of hope.”