Mentors, Youth Aging Out of Foster Care Benefit from Program
By Tim Gurrister. Standard Examiner. – Bree and Catherine, are they sisters or best friends? Coke is better than Pepsi, they'd concur. Reading is their love, they'd say. Bree said, "We both like Lady Gaga. Some of her songs, not all of them." And "We like some of her outfits, not all of them" Catherine added. Bree says that Catherine likes horror movies and listens to rock, not country or opera; while Catherine states that Bree's introduced her to things she wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
Bree, an 18 year-old foster girl, and Catherine Conklin, a 2nd District Court Commissioner and judgeship, were matched under the Mentor Connection program in July. To continue to provide support and a safety net for 18 year-old foster children aging-out of the system, the Ogden's juvenile court began the Mentor Connection program, the first of its kind in the state.
Sarah Pomerory, a DCFS Northern Region administrator, and Chris Wilson, a 2nd District Juvenile Court official of Ogden, run this mentor program. For Pomeroy, "youths aging out of foster care are vulnerable to homelessness, pregnancy, incarceration and other problems -- much more so than those aging out of traditional family situations." Wilson added that "these are kids who are vulnerable because they've been tossed around a lot, some since they were very young. But they are also resilient."
Pomerory affirms that there’s a lot of misconception regarding youth in foster care. Foster kids aren’t responsible for the situation they are in. Not all of them are in care because they did something wrong. “These are not kids with criminal records." These 18 year-olds basically can't return home upon being released from foster care.
The Mentor Connection program, receiving a small grant from the federal government in the past two years, seeks to help set up the aging-out 18 year-old foster teen with a mentor. Recently in mid-November, the program has 15 volunteers and 15 teens. They go through a three day process of "matching" so that the youth can find the most suitable and desired mentor. The first night is an orientation just for the youth; the second night is an orientation just for the mentors. The third night is "matching" night, where each teen sits at a table and converses with a mentor one-on-one, asking five or six questions. When the bell rings after four minutes, the mentors rotate to the next teen. Afterwards, each teen picks their top three choices confidentially. Then Sarah and Chris match the teen with one of their three choice mentors. It works like speed dating. Sarah said, "So far they've all matched themselves."
The toughest part is finding volunteer mentors, since it can only be by word of mouth, no advertising. "We've got plenty of kids who'd like one. People are busy and don't understand what the program entails. But I'm encouraged that we are going to find more mentors. I will say we need more men to match with our males who are in care," informed Sarah.
Many mentors are on to being matched with their second mentees, such as Shane and Patty Rose, who are self-employed in consulting business in information technology and accounting respectively. Patty shared, "Our current mentee has graduated from high school and is living on her own at 17. She is super busy, has two jobs, and we keep in touch mostly through text messages. Texting works best with teens. She is so on the ball and directing her own life, we have mainly been getting to know her and just hanging out when our schedules permit."
Patty shared they see themselves as counselors, not supervisors. "To be a friend… it's about being there with them. If they seek advice, we'll give it, but we don't want to come off like another nagging adult parental figure."
Upon matching Bree and Catherine, the success of her story gave reason for the officials to pick her as the media subject. "That match is perfect. The sky's the limit for Bree. But I'm not sure if she sees that. She's an amazing young lady who has overcome a lot," Sarah complimented.