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Health Center Today, January 26, 2010

Health Center Leading New Mentoring Program

By Chris DeFrancesco

Photo of the We Have a Dream banner

The Health Center and its community partners marked the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., the national King Day of Service, and National Mentoring Month by unveiling a mentoring program for Hartford-area children whose parents are incarcerated.

Growing up can be hard enough.

Imagine the challenge of growing up in a home broken by incarceration.

It’s with these children in mind that Josephine Hawke, assistant professor of psychiatry, was able to secure a federal grant to establish a program that aims to provide adult role models for children forced to grow up with a parent in prison or on parole.

"Our goal is to find as many caring, wonderful adults to step up and help us help kids," Hawke said.

Mentoring Futures Together is a collaboration between the Health Center, the Hartford family advocacy group African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities (AFCAMP), and the Judah House, a halfway house for women leaving prison in Hartford.

Described by its organizers as a partnership celebrating Hartford’s children, Mentoring Futures Together was formally introduced with a “We Have a Dream Celebration” at the State Capitol Jan. 15, marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., the national King Day of Service, and National Mentoring Month.

"We all need to partner together, to work together, to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential and promise as productive, responsible and caring citizens," said State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein. "Mentoring is a wise and profound investment in the future of not only our city, but the future of the nation and the future of the world."

In her remarks, Milstein made reference to a team of students from Hartford’s Milner School, the Team Unity Talented Teens, who gave a song and dance performance intending to represent the hope and potential of Hartford’s youth, including a dance routine called “Stay in the Race,” a rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” and a rap about making good decisions instead of taking the easy way out. The children range in age from 7 to 14.

When more children have mentors, it can "raise their expectations, give them hope for a fulfilling future, help them to build confidence and better relationships, and help them do better in school," said Roland Harmon of the Governor’s Prevention Partnership.

"We are living proof that mentoring works," said Duckworth Grange of the Department of Children and Families. "If it weren’t for mentoring, most of us wouldn’t be here with the success we have today."

Corendis Dawson-Bonner, for example, spoke about how mentors helped her overcome some personal struggles from her past, which included incarceration. Today she is the executive director of the Judah House.

"If you want to be a credit to your community, then you need to be doing something good," Dawson-Bonner said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services delivered a three-year, $300,000 award for Mentoring Futures Together in response to the grant application submitted by Hawke, who said mentors are heroes.

"A hero is the power of one – one caring adult who commits one hour per week for a minimum of one year to mentor a child," Hawke said. "This commitment can make a big difference in the life of a child, a family, and a community ravaged by the effects of incarceration."

Those interested in learning more, volunteering, or becoming a mentor are encouraged to call 860-679-3241 or email

Photo of a Josephine Hawke

Josephine Hawke, assistant professor of psychiatry, unveils the Mentoring Futures Together program January 15 at the State Capitol.

Photo of Jeanne Milstein

State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein calls mentoring "a wise and profound investment" in our children’s future.

Photo of Corendis Dawson-Bonner

Corendis Dawson-Bonner of the Judah House says her mentors helped her overcome a difficult youth.

Photo of the Team Unity Talented Teens performing group

"Team Unity Talented Teens," a performing group from Hartford’s Milner School, provided entertainment with a message at the "We Have a Dream Celebration."