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Each month we spotlight a local nonprofit that's in need of help. It's a way to connect our listeners with charities that make an impact.

Get Involved Spotlight: The Seedling Foundation

From the Seedling Foundation, this month's Get Involved Spotlight nonprofit: 

The Seedling Foundation serves children challenged by parental incarceration in the Austin area, using research­driven, school­based mentoring. Our volunteer mentors are matched with students from kindergarten through eighth grade based on common interests, to ensure a dependable, long­lasting relationship.

Seedling has made over 1,600 matches since the program’s inception in 2006, and has provided mentors to over 500 children in the 2013­14 school year alone. We hope to be able to improve the lives of even more students in the upcoming school year. We have a formal presence in 37 schools, and additional mentors in many others. Mentors meet with a student once per week, during the student’s lunch, to talk, play a game, or read a book together.

Most importantly, the role of a mentor is simply to be a reliable and consistent presence for a child who may not otherwise have access to one. Before the match between mentor and mentee begins, mentors fill out an application detailing their preferences, pass a background check, and attend a short orientation session to prepare them to begin mentoring. The relationships made within our organization are long lasting, and mentors gain as much from their time as their mentees do. Seedling mentors are satisfied with their mentoring relationships, and the majority decide to return after their initial school year.

The children of incarcerated parents deal with a variety of potential issues, be they academic, financial, or emotional. The loss of a parent due to incarceration can be devastating, yet the formal and informal support systems in place for other types of loss, such as illness, death, or divorce, are often nonexistent, creating a stigma that can leave children feeling alone and abandoned. It is estimated that there are over 5,000 children of incarcerated parents in Austin alone; that such a large population may go unnoticed, unrecognized, and unattended to speaks to the larger issue of this silent population: parental incarceration is simply not an issue that is spoken of openly, despite its pervasiveness. 
By creating an atmosphere of acceptance and comfortability with the subject, we can alleviate the shame and guilt that the children of the incarcerated may feel, due to an experience that they had no control over. The Seedling Foundation’s trained staff works toward this goal by offering optional regular monthly trainings on a variety of topics, and providing round­the­clock access for any concerns or issues that a mentor may have.

This continual support after a mentor relationship has been started, not just before, sets us apart from other mentoring programs, and helps to ensure that Seedling mentees are receiving long­term support and access to a person who can positively impact their lives. Mentoring leads to positive outcomes for students, both academically and emotionally. Children with mentors perform better academically than children with the same risk factors without one, as the support systems provided by a mentoring relationship help to put them on equal footing with their peers.

A Seedling Foundation mentor is not a replacement parent, nor a counselor, nor a teacher. They are a friend who a child can talk to, relate with, and rely upon. One hour per week can make all the difference in the world to a child who needs it. If you can take a lunch break, you can change a child’s life. Mentors interested in being matched for the 2014­15 school year can learn more about our program and how to apply at, by calling our offices at 512­323­6371, or by following us on Facebookor Twitter.

Change two lives. Mentor a child.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces and hosts This Is My Thing and Arts Eclectic, and also produces Get Involved and the Sonic ID project. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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