The day I sit down to write this latest article in a series about local mentoring programs is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is also a day to celebrate volunteerism. In 1994, Congress charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with transforming the King holiday into a national day of service.
It feels especially auspicious to me today to write about a local mentoring opportunity that encourages and empowers minority youth in our community. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, King Day of Service builds on King’s legacy of teachings of nonviolence and social justice. The aim of this day of service is to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to come together to improve lives, bridge social barriers and move our nation closer to the “Beloved Community” that Dr. King envisioned.
But one day of service cannot stand alone. The national day of service should be the catalyst that spurs volunteering year-round. Which is where this new opportunity for Pagosans to be allies to underserved youth comes in. The Minority Overrepresentation Program (MOR) is a program of the Sixth Judicial District of Colorado, initiated in 2000 in compliance with the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act of 1974. The MOR effort seeks to address the problem that there is a disproportionate number of young Latinos and other minority youths in the legal system in our judicial district and all over the U.S.
With the help of Martin Luther King Jr., minorities theoretically won equal civil rights, and with the election of Barak Obama, minorities now may feel more empowered to be leaders than ever before. But, as statistics consistently show, this country has a long way to go toward true equality of opportunity and justice for all races. Through advocacy, mentorship and partnership, the MOR program of the Sixth Judicial District is taking steps on that path toward real equality in our communities.
MOR has been operating under the umbrella of the Sixth Judicial District’s Probation Department since 2003, but until now, the work has been focused in La Plata County. A new employee of the probation department in Durango, Christy McGinn, and Pagosa’s School to Work Alliance Program (SWAP) specialist, Chrys Figliolino, have taken on the task of bringing MOR advocacy and mentoring to Archuleta County.
“In Durango, we work with minority youth ages 10-17, most of whom are involved in the juvenile justice system,” explained Tracy Bedard, director of MOR. “We act as a liaison between families and courts, provide referrals to outside agencies, go with them to court and explain the court process, and we try to find them mentors, as well as community service projects to participate in.”
Here in Pagosa, Figliolino and McGinn would like to offer advocacy and mentoring opportunities to all young people involved in the juvenile court system. Figliolino, along with Karen Carpenter, have volunteered to head up the MOR endeavor in Pagosa. Their goal is to find useful community service projects for adjudicated youth to do.
“We want to recruit adult volunteers to head up group community service work that actually does something for our community,” said Figliolino. “I want the kids to physically see something they’ve done and feel proud of it.”
All of this takes buy-in and encouragement from leaders in our community. MOR is actively seeking new adult volunteers to sign up as mentors or service project leaders for the kids that MOR serves. It is a chance to help a young person who’s in trouble make a better start in the world. But it is also bigger than that. Mentoring a youth through the MOR program is a chance to right some of the countless wrongs that have oppressed minorities of all ages throughout the history of the United States of America. Being a mentor for MOR is a chance to help make some fresh starts on the micro and macro levels. Sign up today. For more information about MOR in Pagosa, you can contact Christy McGinn at 385-6174. You can also e-mail MOR’s director, Tracy Bedard, at firstname.lastname@example.org.