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Teaching children values, showing their self-worth



Building strong families and children who will be future leaders is the goal of Isaiah 43 parenting and mentoring ministry.

On Jan. 31, Isaiah 43 held its first Peacebuilders Brunch of mentees and their parents, mentors and leaders from the Catholic parishes where the program is held.

Kristina Gibson, program director, called it a time when Isaiah 43 could share experiences.

“In the three years that this program has been involved, it has truly been a blessing,” Gibson said. “It’s great to see the development and connection between everyone involved.”

One of 35 programs run by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, Isaiah 43 began in January 2012 and has grown to eight parishes and community sites including All Saints, St. David, St. Gabriel the Archangel, St. Peter Claver and Our Lady Star of the Sea, St. Rita in New Orleans, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Lacombe, Baronne Street Transitional Housing and St. Mary of the Angels. Daughters of Charity Health Services New Orleans will soon begin parenting classes.

Needs tailored to parish

Gibson said this is not a cookie-cutter program. It’s parishioners desiring to make a difference in the lives of children. Each parish family is unique, as are their needs, whether it be mentoring, parenting or both.

“We learned pretty quickly that one model that would be the same for every parish wouldn’t work,” she said. “We really try to meet the needs of each parish and tailor Isaiah 43 to it. ... We let them tell us what they need.”

Gibson said she and program coordinator Daughter of Charity Sister Salvatrice Murphy lay the groundwork and provide mentor training, resources and support.

“We do a lot of planning and development sessions to learn what are the needs, strengths and weaknesses and how best to meet those needs,” Gibson said.

She emphasizes to mentors – who commit to four hours a month for a year – that their role is to help bring young people from wherever they are to the next level; it’s not just having fun together.

“Mentors have an intention with that youth, it’s not just passing the time,” she said.

Several mentees and parents expressed the program’s benefits.

"She helped me by supporting me through every problem I’ve had,” Ariane Hollingsworth, 15, a G.W. Carver Collegiate Academy ninth grader said about her mentor Dawn Davis. “She makes me feel like I am not the only one going through things. ... If I have any problems with homework, I can call her anytime, and she helps me.”

In some parishes, the bond became so strong among mentors and mentees that it extended beyond the one-year commitment to a monthly support group.

“I am so excited that Isaiah 43 came to our (St. Peter Claver) parish,” said single mom Kim Harris. Her son, Kendon Barnes, 13, a St. Peter Claver School eighth grader, is a mentee. “I just wanted him to have access to another male adult figure if he needed to talk to someone. It’s been good ... and maybe it will lead him on a path to become a respectful young man, and to know how to deal with life as it comes with peer pressure and things he will deal with. Right now, we have a relationship where he would come to me, but as he gets older ...”

“I know sometimes there are things we can’t talk about,” said Dennis Ragas, dad of new mentee Taquina Nickerson, 10. Ragas is president of All Saints Men of Vision group who is providing mentors to Isaiah 43.  “Mentoring is a good thing. Sometimes, she can go to somebody else and say things she can’t say to me.

Beyond parishes

Isaiah 43 thinks outside the box to address the needs of community youth. It has worked to establish a Young Peacemakers Leadership Council comprised of mentees that have expressed a desire to lead.

“We need to develop leaders at a young age and foster leadership skills and how young people can advocate for themselves and talk about things important to them,” Gibson said.

Isaiah 43 also is partnering with the archdiocesan Interfaith Peace Initiative and its Peace League Basketball program to connect needed services to participating young adults ages 17-25.  Gibson made a shout out at the brunch for new mentors to “build a solid foundation” for this initiative.

“We want to build up young people to be peacemakers and leaders,” she said.

Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, Catholic Charities president and CEO, compared the Isaiah 43 mentors to the Wise Men who followed the star to the baby Jesus.

“Today, you are the wise men and women who are following those stars ... and creating pathways for our young people.”

For information about Isaiah 43, call 310-8764 or visit www.isaiah43.org.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.

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