Big Brothers Big Sisters program helps children of parents in prison

By William K. Alcorn



Adults 18 and over to mentor children who have a parent in prison under Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi Ohio program.

The focus of Amachi Ohio is providing positive role models for children 6 to 15 who have an incarcerated parent.

Amachi is a Nigerian Ibo word meaning “who knows what God has brought us through this child.”

There is real data, said Brian Higgins, director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley in Girard, proving that children with positive role models in their lives use drugs less, are truant less, get better grades in school, get in fewer fights with peers, and have better self-esteem.

“We need both mentors [known as ‘Bigs’] and children [known as ‘Littles’] for the Amachi Ohio program and Big Brothers Big Sisters overall,” Higgins said.

Noelle Hannon, 23, of Poland is one of Amachi Ohio’s newest mentors, having started in September 2013. Her first Little is a 7-year-old girl she described as a “firecracker.”

“I really enjoy her. She is so sweet and energetic and big on sharing. She is very loving, and I get hugs from her and all her family,” said Hannon, a graduate of Union High School in New Castle, Pa.

Hannon, daughter of Robert and Beth Hannon, has a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology from Kent State University and is pursuing a master’s degree in the same field.

A basketball and softball player and cheerleader in high school, Hannon works in the customer-service and pro shop at Knoll Run Golf Course in Lowellville and also volunteers at the Potential Development Program in Youngstown, working with a speech pathologist there.

Hannon said she became a Big Sister because she wants to make an impact on a child.

Hannon and her Little meet at least twice a month.

Sometimes they go to a park or to Hannon’s house, where they cook and bake sugar cookies.

“We might talk about family and sometimes about school, of which she is not a big fan. I’m trying to change that. I don’t feel I’m doing anything out of the ordinary. I just love being with her,” Hannon said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley has about 200 kids in its program, including 20 in Amachi Ohio.

Because safety of the children is the main focus of its program, Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors must undergo an extensive background check, be interviewed and provide references. Also, staff members meet with the Little to make sure it is a good match, said program supervisor, Donna Johnson.

To be accepted, mentors also must commit to meeting with their child every two weeks for a minimum of a year.

“The job of a mentor is not to be a parent or a teacher, but to be an adult friend. We ask them to build a relationship. Some can last a lifetime,” Johnson said.

She said she recently finished enrolling a 23-year-old Youngstown State University graduate student as a mentor who had been a Little in the Cleveland area. He has kept in touch with Big Brothers Big Sisters and it was on his “bucket list” to give back.

“We have found that if volunteers go through the first year, they will continue for four or five years,” Higgins said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a preventative program. Regarding Amachi Ohio, the goal is to stop recidivism by introducing positive role models into children’s lives, he said.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters, since Amachi Ohio began in 2006, 3,000 Ohio children of incarcerated parents have been served in one-to-one mentoring relationships. About 56,000 children in Ohio have an incarcerated parent or parents.

For information about the Amachi Ohio program or to volunteer, call the Girard Big Brothers Big Sisters office at 330-545-0002 or 866-892-2447, or visit

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.