Inmates' kids getting guidance

Several local mentoring programs are designed to provide positive adult examples for kids who lack guidance, but a new option — christened Children of Promise — has become available for a specific group of disadvantaged juniors.

The program is designed to match mentors with kids whose parents are in jail, attempting to provide stability during what can be a sensitive time.

“These kids are so loving,” said Staci Bottomley, a Poulsbo resident who is directing the Kitsap County component of the federally funded program. “They are just looking for someone to love them back.”

The program is paid for through a three-year grant benefiting five western Washington counties. Volunteers of America Western Washington received $165,000 to implement Mentoring Children of Promise. The program intends to serve 110 children in its first year and a total of 330 children over the next three years.

Bottomley already has a list of kids looking for mentors and is actively seeking qualified adults to fit that role.

Not everyone can or should be a mentor. Volunteers need to be willing to make a one-year commitment to a specific child. They have to pass a background check, have a good driving record and attend training and orientation.

Less objectively, they need to like kids and have an idea as to how to have fun. And they should be punctual and reliable.

“They have been let down so many times,” Bottomley said of the children. “So if you promise to pick them up at 2 o’clock, you need to be there. You don’t want to let them down again.”

The minimum commitment for a mentor is six hours per month, requiring some contact every week. This is a guideline most mentors exceed. “If you take someone to a Mariners game, that’s at least four hours right there,” Bottomley said.

Above this, a mentor doesn’t need to have any special skills. Bottomley said when she was screening the kids and asked whether they liked to swim or play miniature golf, many answered they had never done such things. So unlike the average Kitsap teenager, a trip to the mall or the movies may become a memorable occasion.

Of the target group of kids, 60 percent of them live with their grandparents. The kids range from 5 to 15 years old, with a majority falling in the middle of that spread.

More than 60 percent of the parents in this situation are held more than 100 miles away from their kids, and three quarters of incarcerated parents had a prior conviction.

While she always asks the current guardian whether the parents would have problems with a mentor’s presence, Bottomley said contact with the program is often initiated by the parents.

“There have been no problems so far,” she said. “The parents know that when they are in prison, someone else has to take this responsibility. They are usually thankful for this and often suggest it themselves.”

Bottomley taught elementary school for 10 years and has lived in the area for the last four.

For more information, contact Bottomley at (360) 286-3106 or e-mail

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