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Hawaii News

Mentoring program gives hope to children of inmates

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Renae Bal entine, right, a mentor in the Keiki o Ka Aina program, which provides mentors for children of incarcerated parents, leads two children she mentors, Logan Bates, 10, left, and Jake Basques, 14, rear, in a boxcar race at the American Box Car Racing International track in Kunia.
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Keiki o Ka Aina matches children of incarcerated parents with mentors from the community, who spend time doing activities with the kids and serve as positive role models.

Keiki o Ka Aina is trying to make things less difficult for children growing up with parents behind bars by using volunteers from the community to spend time doing activities with the kids.

"They’re just another positive role model in the children’s lives," said program coordinator Memory Ku. "We’re not trying to take them away from their parents."

Renae Balentine:
The junior at Hawaii
Pacific University mentors
six children while
balancing college work

Ku teaches weekly parenting classes at the Waiawa Correctional Facility and Women’s Community Correctional Center, where she found most of the children to mentor. Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents has more than 150 4- to 16-year-olds and mentors across Oahu.

A recent outing at the boxcar racing track in Kunia brought caregivers, mentors and the children together in a monthly activity for the children to meet other children who might be experiencing the similar feelings of loss and sadness.

Micah Komine, a volunteer from the Honolulu Fire Department, has been a mentor since December 2009 after hearing about the program from a friend who is also part of it.

"I love helping kids," said Komine, a mentor to a 10-year-old boy named Brandon. "I got to build a close bond with my angel."

The two meet twice a month for at least three hours each time, whether it be playing basketball, tossing a Frisbee, going to the beach or just sitting around to chat.

Each mentor is reviewed and matched with a child by Ku and her staff, based on their interests, preferences and, typically, gender.

"It’s challenging," she said. "But for the most part it works."

Meetings between the child and their mentor varies — sometimes weekly or sometimes monthly — all depending on each person’s availability.

"That’s the biggest challenge, learning about time," said volunteer Renae Balentine, a mentor of six children and a junior balancing courses at Hawaii Pacific University. She said the experience has not only taught her how to manage time, but also more valuable lessons about life, forgiveness, strength and love.

Balentine got involved with Keiki o Ka Aina after volunteering at last year’s Camp Agape, a weekend event hosted by New Hope Ministries for the children of prisoners.

"I try to get them to do stuff they’ve never done before and take them to places they’ve never gone," said Balentine, who usually takes her kids out to the beach or play Nintendo’s Wii.

Star Sedeno of Kalihi is a caregiver of three children and Jesse Bates Jr. of Pearl City is a caregiver to his three children — all of whom are mentored under Balentine.

"We’re like ‘The Brady Bunch,’" Bates said. "Renae is like ‘the Alice.’"

As an ex-inmate himself, Bates got involved with a prison ministry that opened the door to his active involvement in Keiki o Ka Aina. Bates said he appreciates the program for providing him with an opportunity to help others and help himself to "get back on track."

Anyone is welcome to volunteer as a mentor. Those interested should call program coordinator Memory Ku at 843-2502.


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