Y-NOW

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Children of prisoners are seven times more likely to become incarcerated themselves one day. A program through the Louisville YMCA looks to break that cycle, but they need volunteers to help.

Recently retired Tom Kmetz and 11-year-old Javon Hutchison were paired up thanks to Y-NOW, a 10-month mentoring program through the YMCA.

"Almost every week we have an activity. It might be a U of L basketball game. We've gone to a Cincinnati Bengals game," said Kmetz.

"We talk about like how's my day going, how's school going, our goals and how we want to reach our goals and stuff," said Hutchison.

The goal of the program is to reach kids with a parent who is or was incarcerated. The children of prisoners are seven times more likely to end up behind bars themselves one day. By pairing them with a mentor, the hope is they'll learn the life skills needed to break the cycle of incarceration.

"Incarceration is not talked about in our society, and often you're told not to talk about it. So we give them that safe place or forum where we talk about things and we really emphasize this is a safe place," said program director Brittany Bryant.

Hutchison's father was behind bars a few years ago.

"We used to drive around and past the place where he got locked up at," he said. "I was just so young and I cried a lot," said Hutchison.

With the Y-NOW program, Hutchison's not alone. He has Kmetz and other kids his age he can share with. And having that safe space seems to be working. After 15 years of classes, 90 percent of Y-NOW graduates have stayed out of the criminal justice system.

"We have 93 percent of youth who should have graduated high school have graduated, from our alumni class," said Bryant.

But to keep making a difference, the program needs more volunteers.

"Mentoring can be a significant commitment. We want people who are dedicated, because the worst thing that can happen is for someone to sign up and not follow through with their commitment," said Bryant.

The commitment includes weekly activities and group meetings. For Kmetz, it's something he looks forward to.

"It's part of my what am I going to do with Javon this week. And so I get to plan something and I get to call him and say 'what do you want to do'," said Kmetz.

He hopes to continue being a mentor as he and Hutchison continue their friendship.

"That circumstance is not of their own making, and they need positive role models. If we can serve as a positive role model for a young man or woman, then we're making a difference for that person," said Kmetz.

The next round starts April 12. Training is required for mentors and camp volunteers. Y-NOW will have a training session at Safe Place on Saturday, March 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact Tory at tportale@ymcalouisville.org with any questions, or to sign up to become a volunteer.

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