I’m Nat, a Rehabilitation Specialist working with youth at Family Care Network. I’ve been a mentor for about six months now, and I’d like to share about my experience because I think that mentoring foster youth makes a big difference in their lives and in our community. I met my mentee working as a Rehabilitation Specialist in our Emergency Shelter Care Program. She was in a shelter foster home for about six months, and during those months I picked her up from school almost every day, and spent the rest of the day with her. We quickly built a trusting and strong relationship that was very grounding for her. I felt that I wanted to be able to continue to be a stable part of her life so I decided to make a commitment to become a mentor for her after her case was closed. I see my mentee at least once a week. Sometimes we go out to eat or just walk around the mall.
Some of my favorite memories of being her mentor involve doing the simple things like listening to music and playing games. Some people might find that boring, but for us it is fun and relaxing. We joke around, have a fun time doing simple and easy things together. I’m often reminded that my mentee is still just a young girl, despite the many challenges she has been through. My mentee tries to be mature, and often acts older than her age, but she is still a young girl at heart and just needs some space to do normal kid things. Sometimes kids in foster care have to grow up fast--too fast--and can grow a hard outer shell to keep from getting hurt again. Building a safe relationship with them helps them to let down their guards and just enjoy life.
Consistency in our relationship is very helpful for my mentee, as with all kids, especially those in foster care. She has been in foster care almost her entire life, and she’s had very few consistent relationships stay with her when she moves homes or schools. She knows that I am someone in her life that she can always trust and call or text anytime when she needs support or to just talk. I love that I am available to my mentee all the time, and am thankful that she chooses to reach out to me. Sometimes, she’ll regress into unhealthy habits when she’s under stress or dealing with change. But now, instead of running away from a difficult situation like she used to, she chooses to call me so we can talk it all through. If I feel concerned or worried about her, I likewise reach out to her so that I can offer her needed support and encouragement. And I also often connect with her foster mom to make sure that my mentee is receiving the extra attention she needs when things get hard. I like that I get to be very involved in my mentee’s life and be an important part of her support system.
I feel like mentoring is preparing me for my own future of being a parent, if and when I choose to become one. I am always mindful of my mentee, and I think that being committed to and mindful of her wellbeing has made me a more caring person. I think our relationship has impacted us both for the better, and I hope that my mentee sees me as a role model just as I see her--we both are learning from one another and from our relationship. She calls and texts me often to tell me what’s going on in her week, and opens up to me in ways that she doesn’t always feel comfortable doing with her foster family or social worker. I always want to be a person she can turn to when and if she needs anything.
Mentoring is so important, especially for kids in foster care. As a youth, I wish I had had more people in my life outside of my parents whom I could have reached out to when things got hard and I needed guidance. For my mentee, I want to be that person who guides her in the right direction. I know that she’s a good person who cares deeply for others, and that she wants a better life for herself. If I can be a person who makes a difference and guides her to a better future by helping her make better choices, I will feel successful as a mentor. Investing in her doesn’t require a lot of time or resources--just me being willing. And while we do spend time together, I feel it is more helpful for her to know and trust that I am there for her whenever she needs me--I am always at the end of a telephone call or a text. It’s important for kids who have endured a lot of trauma, like my mentee, feel connected with their community, and that they build a support system outside of the adults who may have hurt them, that will remain theirs regardless of where life may take them. This is who I want to be for my mentee.
Being a mentor, reminds me that kids--foster or otherwise--are not all the same; they’ve not all been given the same opportunities, advantages or have experienced the same disadvantages. My mentee sometimes makes poor choices because of the challenging circumstances she has experienced and lives within, and because she is still trying to heal and find her footing in life. It’s important that I remember that she is just a kid who needs and deserves an unconditional and stable support system to help her grow, mature and move towards making positive life choices. No one can achieve this without support. Even something as trivial as a text message goes a long way to provide her this support, reminding her that I am here and she is important to me. And when someone makes you feel important, you are more likely to believe that you are!
Mentoring is a great way to give back to our community. I’ve had a lot of people in my life who have helped and supported me, and I’m happy to now be that person for a youth in foster care. The most important thing our foster youth need is a trusting and unconditional friendship that they can call their own and rely on no matter what their futures may bring.
If you are interested in mentoring a foster youth like Nat, please call us at 805.781.3535, or visit FCNI.org/be-the-difference.