…because of 18 candles

on my 18th birthday, my friends threw me a surprise party.  we played volleyball, ate dinner, and shoved cake on each other’s faces.  on this day i received flowers and gifts from all the people that care about me, i spent the night at my friend’s house.

on his 18th birthday, he became ineligible for child welfare services.  he did not qualify for foster care, and adoptive families rarely adopt young adults.  on this day, he went to the high school he had already graduated from and sat in the hallways and read books, not knowing what else to do.  on his 18th birthday, he was told he couldn’t do this much longer since he technically wasn’t a student.  his frequent moves to different foster families and schools didn’t allow him to make many friends, especially not friends he could count on for a place to stay.  and on this day, he had the choice of checking himself into a shelter or sleeping on the streets.

 

today was meaningful because i went to a mentor training meeting.  we sat and listened to the story of an 18 year old boy who not knowing what else to do, called the agency i volunteer for and requested a mentor; “i need some help,” he said.  the agency didn’t know if they could help him either; mentor services are only available up until the age of 17.  fortunately, they found a way to make an exception. “i can’t do this on my own because i don’t know where to start,” he explained.  his parents’ rights had been terminated due to abuse and neglect, his only other form of support-his grandmother- had passed away; and so, he moved from institution to institution, staying at foster families along the way.  he talked about navigating the system all on his own with no phone or transportation.

as his story progressed, it moved from one of sadness to one of hope.  the boy, like many other foster children, is resilient.  he has a job working the 9pm- 4 am shift at a fast food restaurant three miles from the transitional residence he is staying at for minimum wage.  he said he doesn’t mind the work, but at 4 am it’s scary to walk home alone, especially after working seven hours and when you don’t live in a good neighborhood.  like many of us, he talked about struggling with budgeting his money, especially when he had little material items and has to pay for his food and clothes.  he talked about figuring out how to enroll in college and his face lit up as he talked about going to school to be a vet assistant.  he did all of this by himself.

 

i don’t know what i would have done if i were in the same situation-partly because it is hard to truly understand what he has went through without having experienced anything of the sort in my upbringing, and partly because i can’t imagine doing this sort of thing alone.  what i do know however, is that it wouldn’t be easy.

 

when asked what he needed from a mentor he stated that all he wanted was someone to tell him that he could do it.  someone he could call when he got a good grade or was accepted into the community college, someone who would tell him they were proud of him.  of course my eyes watered up, i have never had to worry about that in my life.  out of all the things he could possibly want from someone, his only response was to have someone who believed in him.

 

it’s almost like we live in different worlds. i know we don’t really, but sometimes it almost seems like we do.

there is a wait-list for kids who want mentors. who want someone to cheer them on.

they don’t necessarily want someone to solve all of their problems, they just want someone to share their time with.

 and they are especially in need of male mentors.


you never know whose life you might change.

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