One of Little Dixie’s newer programs is also one of its most visible: It’s called Passport to the Future. The purpose is to provide mentoring opportunities for children whose parents are in the criminal justice system.
Passport to the Future has a staff of five people: A program director, coordinator and mentoring specialist in Pushmataha County, and mentoring specialists in McCurtain and Choctaw counties. In just a few short years since the program’s inception in 2004, Passport staff has signed on 360 children and more than 200 mentors.
Passport stresses the importance of the one-on-one mentor-to-mentee relationship. Mentor candidates are screened and interviewed to best match the child’s needs. Mentors uplift the children by providing them opportunities to experience positive events.
One interesting note about mentors: They don’t do homework. Children are expected to maintain their grades and do their own homework. This allows the mentors to provide fresh experiences for the children, such as trips to the outdoors, local museums, etc.
Passport to the Future is most famous for its group events. Outside of school and tribal events, these group mentoring events are arguably the largest gathering of children and their adult mentors in all of southeast Oklahoma.
At times, as many as 200 people are gathered on fishing trips, outings to the skating rink, and other activities. One recent journey took a group of 67 children and mentors to a live performance of “Steel Magnolias” by the Paris Community Theater. For many, it was their first time to experience a live action play.
The purpose of all this is to uplift these children, and show them that there are many other ways to go about life than repeating the mistakes of their parent(s). Incarceration tends to be generational, and too often children will follow in the footsteps of their mother or father, right into prison.
Passport to the Future aims to change that tendency. Mentors are always in short supply, so if you think you may be interested in mentoring a child, contact the program: In Antlers, call (580) 298-2921; Hugo call (580) 326-6441; McCurtain County call (580) 286-9348.