Drugs, abuse and neglect were part of a little girl’s introduction to the world.
Her father was incarcerated and both her parents’ rights concerning her were eventually terminated. Now 9 years old, she went into foster care at age 2 and, by age 6, she had already been shuttled between a half-dozen different homes.
“She had seen it all,” says Priscilla Wallace, the child’s adoptive mother.
With help from the Flint organization, Motherly Intercession, Wallace has given the child a more stable home the past three years. Since 1999 Motherly Intercession has stood in the gap, addressing an often overlooked community need among Genesee County households impacted by incarceration. In 2016 the nonprofit expanded its Reading and Counting to Success (RACS) program to build a stronger foundation for families rebounding from jail or prison.
“I was able to adopt her because I did not want to see her go through anything else she had gone through prior to getting to me,” Wallace says.
Shirley Cochran’s vision for youth with incarcerated parents has filled a community service gap since 1999.
After learning about Motherly Intercession, she enrolled in its “Strengthening Incarcerated Families” parenting class, which offers methods for handling stress related to incarceration issues.
“I have been totally, totally satisfied with what they do, how they help these children, not only with their education, but with their personal lives right now,” says Wallace.
The vision for Motherly Intercession includes a long-term effort to sustain its programs and support households. From grandparents suddenly faced with raising grandchildren to fathers taking on household duties when a mother is jailed, various Flint residents find assistance.
Incarceration is the type of thing people don’t talk openly about, because there’s such a negative social stigma around it.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to acquire their trust,” says founder Shirley Cochran. “Motherly Intercession is a safe, non-judgmental place for them to come and talk openly about their incarceration.
“Incarceration is the type of thing people don’t talk openly about, because there’s such a negative social stigma around it. When people go to jail, we don’t want anybody to know. It needs to be addressed, not by pity, but by giving them a means for getting past that.”
By providing courses both inside and outside jails, Cochran says Motherly Intercessions assists parents separated from their children by convictions and returning citizens, making the transition to household provider. The stress of reentering the community can be “a whole different animal” from the normal demand of paying bills and raising children in more favorable circumstances, adds Cochran.
When people go to jail, we don’t want anybody to know. It needs to be addressed, not by pity, but by giving them a means for getting past that.
The onset of Flint’s recent water crisis only intensified the concerns and challenges of many in the population the organization serves.
“We did a mini-survey a while back just wanting to get an idea how that was impacting some of the mothers in the jail,” says Cochran. “What we found was 70 to 75 percent of the mothers didn’t know if their children had been tested for lead.”
In fact, some of the youth in Motherly Intercessions programs have tested positive for lead exposure, says Cochran.
Part of the organization’s role is to help monitor symptoms, such as problems maintaining concentration, hyperactivity and impulse control, which can impact learning. Through its flagship RACS initiative the organization has doubled its child development and tutoring from twice weekly to four times weekly, with the goal of expanding from about 25 youth to 50.
Along with homework assistance, RACS offers nutritious meals that help protect against lead absorption, transportation and related extracurricular support for children ages 3 to 18. On average, after just one year of tutoring, 15 percent of RACS participants have improved their reading or math skills by about two grade levels and 35 percent improved by one grade level, according to Motherly Intercessions research.
RACS saves taxpayers about $900,000 yearly by serving about 25 youth, who without the program, might enter foster care or generate other public expenses, a study shows. RACS stresses education to level the playing field among children who, according to research, are more likely to be incarcerated or otherwise disadvantaged, based on their parents’ struggles. Cochran rejects such stereotypes, and says many would be surprised that the majority of women she assists are white, and that some of the prisoners are college-educated.
In operating the organization, the former General Motors personnel, accounting and supplier management employee has seen its success firsthand. Two youth who came through the program went on to college and returned to work as interns.
Including Cochran, Motherly Intercessions has two full-time employees and four part-time staff. The organization evolved from her simple desire to provide Christmas gifts to the children of women jailed in 1999. The same year, a quickly organized gospel fundraiser, donations and cash collected from friends and local businesses helped Cochran’s volunteers deliver food and gifts on behalf of 23 women with 58 children combined.
“We were going to refer these people to agencies that served incarcerated families, but there were none at the time,” she says. “This is a labor of love and divine intervention.”
Continuing Motherly Intercessions’ mission is a never-ending search for funding and donations. Tickets for the annual June “Golf Scramble” fundraiser are available at www.unlocktheirfuture.org and the “Unlock Their Future” fundraising dinner in November continues the tradition of providing gifts for families.
As Mother’s Day approaches, Cochran asks Flint residents to keep in mind the parents and alternate caregivers Motherly Intercessions supports. The organization is on pace to assist about 800 adults and children in 2017.
“These children love their parents as much as middle-class families who have money and who have not been incarcerated,” Cochran says.
Motherly Intercessions’ mission aligns with that of its funding partner, The Hagerman Foundation.
“We formed The Hagerman Foundation to empower families,” says CEO Jocelyn Hagerman. “The water crisis only solidified our determination and Motherly Intercessions is one of the programs we proudly support in serving the ongoing needs of Flint children.”
Wallace calls the program’s support, which also extends to her adopted son, invaluable.
“The services they provide have been excellent,” she says.
Editor’s Note: For more information or to donate to Motherly Intercessions call (810) 424-9909 or visit www.unlocktheirfuture.org. Donations may also be mailed to Motherly Intercessions, P.O. Box 31109, Flint, MI 48531.