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Pay It Forward: Helping kids navigate life with incarcerated parents

(John McMahon/Iowa's News Now).{ }
(John McMahon/Iowa's News Now).
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Being a kid is supposed to be easy; Playing sports, going out with friends and navigating high school, are all parts of the territory in being a young person. However, having a parent, or both parents incarcerated, can make growing up difficult.

One Cedar Rapids nonprofit is looking to change that.

The Children of Promise Mentoring Program helps kids with incarcerated parents by providing them with mentorship and providing outings that they would otherwise not be able to do.

"Over the course of 18 years, its been building a program that helps address helping our kids that have a parent incarcerated," said Daniel Johnson, the President and CEO of Children of Promise Mentoring Program. " Some are also suffering from some mental health issues. By providing mentorship to them, whether it be individual mentoring or group based mentoring, but also giving them an opportunities that they would not otherwise be able to do."

Johnson has been with the program for the better part of 2 decades, starting as a program coordinator in 2004. Since then, he has overseen numerous changes, including navigating COVID-19, climbing the ladder to the top leadership role as president and CEO.

"When the program started, it started as a federal grant," said Johnson. The Department of Correctional Services was able to acquire some funding from the federal government that allowed for the city of Cedar Rapids and this program to identify students in the community who are suffering from having one or both of their parents incarcerated, on probation or on parole."

Johnson says the events the Children of Promise Mentoring Program as well as referrals from the community are what brings in new mentors and kids into the program.

"There are fathers who are incarcerated that know what I do, and I have received mail from them asking to help their son."

The organization hosts events throughout the year to recruit as well as raise money for the outings for kids, including rodeos, football games, and trips to the Paramount Theatre.

"Some kids who have parents that are incarcerated, their lives are accelerated they have to watch their siblings, put on hold playing basketball and football and being part of a community," said Johnson. "So I think it our program allows those kids to get that youth back. It gives them an opportunity to be a kid for 2-3 hours, let us buy a snack for them and let them laugh and play."

Most recently, the organization held an event at Rock N Energy in Marion.

"I’ve been with children of promise since 2016, we’re actually one of their families," said Ashley Beachel, the owner of Rock N Energy. "They’ve known for a long time to have an energy bar was a dream of mine, and when we were able open I told them wanted to do something for them. I the space to be a community space and pair up."

Beachel says the program benefits everyone involved, children and adults alike.

"Everybody needs a mentor. A high schooler, teen, an adult," she said. "They really give back to the community and I wanted to be able to give back to them too."

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At the end of the day, I think its important that we’re still allowing them to dream," said Johnson. "You don’t have to have a stamp on your back because you have a parent incarcerated."

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