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No child left alone: Volunteers mentor children of inmates

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In effect, public funding served as seed money for a social service that's now delivered primarily via private partnerships, including religious groups.

"Normally, you come up with a model and engage the public sector in spreading your interesting model, and it becomes an ongoing area of service," says David Wright, an expert on faith-based initiatives at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York. "To reverse it, the question would be: Who would pick up something that was piloted by the government?"

So far, in this new environment, children of prisoners usually aren't aware that public support for their mentoring has vanished. What they know is that growing up comes with a lot of challenges, especially when Dad or Mom is behind bars. And that their mentors care enough to keep showing up.

Though mentors were all volunteers, MCP funded screening, training, and coordinating matches with mentees. They were often people like Williams: churchgoers who saw mentoring the most vulnerable of children as a God-given mission.

Surviving in environs that sent Dad to prison

On a sunny afternoon last fall, a bullet-riddled Pontiac Grand Am sat like a monument to violence beside an open field at The Estates housing project in New Orleans' Upper Ninth Ward. Young children played a game of tug of war nearby, and older kids shot hoops on a court across the street.

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