Just outside of NoDa, at 420 East 15th Street, is a nonprofit that is tirelessly and effectively turning lives around. In the past 16 years, Life Connections of the Carolinas has served over 3,500 youth and their families. Through innovative and comprehensive plans, they pursue their mission to “keep kids out of jail and families connected.” Life Connections can proudly report over a 70% success rate of keeping the youth they serve out of jail.
Life Connections of the Carolinas gives individuals the skills to make constructive connections with their families, with supportive adults, and with their communities. To achieve this, they operate three major programs:
Most families are referred to this training service by the juvenile court, DSS, mental health services, and schools, but the free program is open to any family who would like to make a positive change. Rather than focusing only on the troubled youth (ages 12 to 17), DASH Strengthening Families addresses parents, siblings, etc., so the whole family is involved in becoming stronger and healthier together.
The program consists of seven independent sessions that can be attended in any order. Every session starts with a family-style meal before breaking out into smaller groups. When the sessions have been completed, a graduation ceremony celebrates the growth and achievements of the families’ hard work.
The Juvenile Crime Prevention Council operates in every NC county and subsidizes select programs designed to reduce and prevent juvenile crime. Since 2004, JCPC has supported the DASH Strengthening Families program, making it the longest-running prevention program in Mecklenburg County. The program has since expanded to Alexander, Iredell, and Union counties.
DASH Mentoring differs from most other mentoring programs. Its unique approach is youth-initiated mentoring, where the child (ages 7 to 17) identifies an adult who is already a positive influence in their life. Life Connections then offers mentor training for that individual. Research suggests that people who choose their own mentor are more likely to be in enduring relationships than those who are matched by a program.
In addition to youth-initiated mentoring, Life Connections puts kids together with mentors in specialized interests—people able to lead, for example, a basketball group, an automotive club, or an art project or community service project, or who have other valuable skills to share.
DASH Mentoring is now serving eight additional NC counties. Life Connections is always looking for more mentors. If you are interested, please email them or call 980-999-DASH for more information.
Life Connections of the Carolinas was founded in 1997 by Glenn Smith when he started teaching classes in the jails to help prepare adults and juveniles to reenter community upon their release. They are the longest-running and largest provider of life skills instruction in Mecklenburg County jails today.
The program has a well-developed curriculum for fifteen different life skills courses, including Parenting, Managing Your Emotions, Job Skills, and Transformational Life Skills. Each is designed to help people thoughtfully examine how they have been living their lives and how they want to live their lives in the future. DASH Re-Entry also provides recently released individuals one-on-one coaching sessions, support groups, and access to a vast network of referral services.
Though the government provides funding for most of their programming, Life Connections has to rely on donations for basic administrative costs like rent, the meals provided at every Strengthening Families session, and even the salaries of their dedicated staff.
Just last month, Life Connections launched a fund-raising program called 100 Life Connections. When you visit their website, you can commit to a monthly gift of any amount to help keep this organization running strong. I have done so and invite you to join them as well in truly making a difference for the future of our youth and the future of our communities.