When we Americans greet each other in our day-to-day activities, we often begin with the question, "Hi, how are you?"
"I'm doing well, thanks," we might respond casually, "And how are you?"
It's our custom. It's our way of expressing wishes of good will to our acquaintances, co-workers, and friends.
But, perhaps we say those words so often that we completely miss the importance of the question. When we ask someone, "How are you?" Do we really expect an honest answer? Or, do we expect the person to simply respond in kind, "I'm doing well, thank you. How are you?"
On February 24 at the Recruiting Volunteers for Youth in the Urban Faith-based Community program in
Muskegon, Reverend Dr. W. Wilson Goode challenged a group of people involved in mentoring to take those questions seriously. He shared with us a custom of the Masai tribe in
Africa. Like us, they have a customary greeting they share as their paths cross during day-to-day business. However, this greeting is much more than just a custom; it is a question that has come to define their entire culture.
"How are the children?"
When the Masai ask this of each other, they don't expect a casual response. Instead, they expect an honest answer - whether good or bad - and are prepared to drop what they are doing to provide what's necessary in response.
Dr. Goode asks the same thing of us.
When we, as Americans, collectively ask the question, "How are our children?" The answer is not as hopeful as we might think. Whether we know it or not, we are all surrounded by youth who are at-risk. As the founder of the Amachi program, Dr. Goode is dedicated to changing that.
Amachi works with the most vulnerable group of at-risk young people in
America: children of incarcerated parents. These youth are at greater risk for every major indicator, and are more likely to end up in prison themselves unless we, too, are prepared to do what is necessary to prevent that from happening.
Dr. Goode shared what Amachi has done to respond to that need and how local communities can replicate that success. Amachi partners directly with local church congregations to recruit mentors for at-risk youth. In 2000, Dr. Goode began the program in
by establishing personal relationships with local pastors and asking them to recruit mentors from their congregations.
This model has proven to be so successful that Amachi is now represented in 48 states by 250 mentoring programs. Over 6,000 churches have joined the effort, and most importantly, at least 100,000 children have been served.
To conclude the wonderful day, Dr. Goode asked each of us to stand, raise our right hands, and recommit ourselves to the cause of serving these children. We did so gladly.
In that spirit, I pose the following questions: When we as neighborhoods, communities, and ultimately a country ask, "How are our children?" What answer do we receive? And more importantly, what are we willing to do when we learn the answer?
To find out more about Amachi, visit
. The Recruiting Volunteers for Youth in the Urban Faith-Based Community was presented courtesy of the Dare to Care Mentoring Partnership, Muskegon County Mentoring Collaborative, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore.
Submitted by: Ben Gulker, Mentor Michigan AmeriCorps*VISTA