Nearly 600 young people age out of the state foster care system each year and a local organization wants to find a mentor for as many of them as possible with its new program: THRIVE.
Many of the kids coming out of foster care have had traumatic childhoods and most lack a conventional family support system. Some end up as criminals, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as adults, according to Hope and a Future, a local, Arizona group that helps young people in the foster care system. Often, this is after spending time homeless on the streets of Phoenix, Tucson and other cities in the state.
“The community doesn’t know how much of a need there is to help this part of the population,” said Nina Lindsey whose organization, Arizona’s Children Association, received a contract from the state of Arizona last year to set up a new mentoring program.
Lopez says that, with training, a responsible mentor can do a lot to help a younger person stay on the right track. AZCA plans to offer that training to interested and qualified mentors.
The challenge is in finding the volunteers. The early goal of 400 mentors is a lot of people to screen, run background checks on, train, and match with mentees. With the contract to operate this program statewide, Lopez certainly has a great deal of work on her hands.
But she is determined. Since the December start, Lopez has visited colleges and churches, attended job fairs and utilized local resources to reach out to the community for help. So far, Lopez has three mentor/mentee relationships set up and eight other applicants.
Nina Lindsey, director of programs for St. Joseph the Worker, an organization that helps the homeless in Phoenix find employment, became a mentor about six months ago.
Lindsey, who grew up in the foster system in Washington and Oregon, is passionate about helping these young people.
She compares the foster system, in some ways, to the prison system. In the same way that the prison system in America is notorious for not fulfilling its commitment to rehabilitation, the foster system often does a poor job nurturing young people and preparing them for the world.
“We assume that if we drop kids into a family structure they will come out with the skills to live and no one at 18 has that,” said Lindsey.
She described growing up in a household where she was required to cook drugs at the age of 8 and she remembers fearing for her life. She said that didn’t change just because she was moved into the foster system and even out of the state to be away from her parents. Wondering if her foster parents would also be violent and whether she could trust them was not something the program did, or perhaps even could, help her with.
“You get the impression that as soon as you do one thing wrong people are going to leave you,” Lindsey said, adding that people who have spent time in the foster system tend to acquire a sort of stigma. They feel that people look down on them as though they did something to deserve the situation they grew up in; something she says is hardly ever the case.
Anyone interested in mentoring should contact Armida Lopez through arizonaschildren.org.
For more information on the THRIVE program, visit http://www.arizonaschildren.org/get-involved/volunteer/26-volunteer2/165-thrive-mentor-program.
• Trevor Godfrey is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.