Marina was fidgety and clearly annoyed. Her mentor was meeting with her for the fourth time, and already she could tell that Marina was preoccupied and not her usual self. After the third “I wonder what’s bothering you” prod from her mentor, Marina finally blurted out that she was frustrated about a poetry homework assignment she didn’t think she could do. Her mentor quietly helped her think through the assignment and Marina slowly began to return to her old self.
The next week, Marina was all smiles and proud of the poem she had written the week prior. She had earned a passing grade on the assignment which made the difference between passing and failing the class.
This small story of academic success is an immediate sign of a transformational relationship forming between Marina and her mentor. The victory is a life-affirming win and an indicator of change for the 16-year-old girl who has been in and out of 14 foster homes and who is currently serving time in a Harris County Juvenile Detention facility.
Cracks in the youth system spur Houston reVision
Marina is just one of hundreds of “dual status youth” who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems across Texas. These children have been in the Child Protective Services (CPS) system, foster homes or Residential Treatment Centers (RTC) that function as group homes.
Charles Rotramel, CEO of Houston reVision, became aware of this unique population of youth involved in multiple systems while visiting young people in Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) detention centers. As he asked about their personal stories, a couple of young people slowly began to reveal that they were foster kids, although there was no information about their status in the HCJPD file.
The discovery that the County and State system databases were not sharing this information alarmed Charles. He convened a task force bringing together leaders from all County and State systems, as well as nonprofits and faith-based organizations working in those systems to find out why. None of the agencies were aware of the crack these kids were falling into.
Most dual status youth aren’t aware of the state benefits for education and healthcare that are available to them, so many of them end up on the streets. As a result of the Harris County Dual Status Youth Initiative’s work, the systems are now coordinating case planning and databases, and are working toward connecting these young people to developmental and life provisions for adult life as they age out of the system.
Houston reVision recruits and trains mentors from churches and pairs them with young people while they’re incarcerated in juvenile facilities throughout the region. Data show that for kids to make significant changes they need two essential relationships: one with a caring adult and one with a positive peer community. The mission of Houston reVision is to provide these two relationships, as well as other support structures, to guide kids on the edge toward centers of caring communities and wellness.
EHF helps congregations join the reVision effort
In 2016, EHF funded an initiative for three Episcopal congregations located along the Grand Parkway/99 corridor to train and mentor dual status youth with reVision. The shift from having nobody in their lives to having someone they can rely on has an immediate and significant impact on the kids. As a result, Good Shepherd-Tomball, Holy Comforter-Spring and St. Aidan’s-Cypress now have 41 trained mentors meeting with young people in their communities.
For the mentors of St. Aidan’s, it’s already proven to be a transformational experience. Mentors say the apprehension of meeting the first time fell away instantly and turned to joy as they gained a deeper understanding of themselves as a minister in the shared relationships.
“Once you recognize this intentional relationship as a holy work, you see holiness in all of your relationships,” said the Rev. Les Carpenter, rector of St. Aidan’s. “It’s a catalyst for a transformation that’s been happening for a long time already with how we’ve thought about outreach. We’ve been transforming into a congregation that’s about giving yourself rather than just stuff. When we give ourselves, our hope is not wrapped up in stuff, it’s about people and relationship.”
Currently reVision serves over 300 school-based children involved in the juvenile justice system with 325 mentors from predominately Episcopal and Methodist congregations from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and the Texas Methodist Conference. St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston joined together with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in 2012 to establish Houston reVision in a unique collaborative partnership. reVision is now partnered with 39 Episcopal and Methodist congregations in four counties within the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
Want to know more about how EHF can help you partner with reVision? Send us an email!