Mentoring Programs Reconnect Parents and Children

Playground time
Parents can spend supervised time with their children at Aviva to strengthen their relationships.Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

Photographs by PAULA OSPINA

It is a place for second chances — a center for parents and children to make a fresh start together after the scourge of neglect, poverty or parental abuse that have made home life untenable.

Aviva's sewing group
From left to right, Flora Ornelas, Cecilia Loya, Chris Morris, Nan Schubel and Barb Smart are Aviva Divas, members of a volunteer sewing group that donates to Tucson's children in need.Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

The one-story brick building in downtown Tucson houses Aviva Children’s Services, a secure area where children and parents can spend quality time together.

Aviva’s goal is to gradually reunite broken families by offering guidance and support to help them maintain positive relationships with their children. Parents visit the center to spend two to four hours a week with their children under supervision.

The Aviva Divas are a group of volunteers who meet there each Thursday to sew and create quilts, duffle bags and doll clothing for disadvantaged children in the community. The volunteers do not know who receives their handiwork, but they said they were satisfied knowing they were helping children who range from newborns to 18-year-olds.

Angelica Elias
Angelica Elias is one of many parents benefiting from Aviva Children's Services. She overcame substance abuse and was reunited with her two daughters. Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

A crucial service offered at Aviva is the Parent Peer Support Program, where parents who were separated from their children and successfully undergo the Department of Children Services process. Here, parents share their experiences and encouragement to others who are currently struggling to reunite their families.

One of the parents, Angelica Elias, shared her story of substance abuse and the temporary loss of custody of her two children. She said the group was a perfect fit for her because she was able to relate to parents with similar issues.

She said, “Knowing exactly what they’re thinking — from what I felt and what I thought, and being able to be like it’s O.K. I went through it, and I am here for you.”

“You’re really doing something that’s satisfying to you,” said Chris Morris, an Aviva Diva, “to know that you’ve helped children, small children who are in a really rough spot and your heart goes out to all these little kids.”

A quilt sown by Joy States
A quilt sown by Joy States, an Aviva Divas volunteer, will be delivered to a child in need. Paula Ospina/NYT Institute

Produced by Yolanda Martinez