Me and My Mentor
By Tara B.
Hey guys and girls! This is the high yellow, big mouth, funny writer who always comes correct with the facts. Coming at ya with an article dedicated to those childcare workers who take their time with children who have no one to turn to.
It was very hard when I was first placed at my RTC (residential treatment center) in upstate New York. I had heard so many good things about the place. Like how the campus looks like a real college campus. Now that wasn't true, but it didn't really bother me because I wasn't looking to move into a mansion.
Then they told me that the education was top of the charts. That didn't affect me either, because I always knew that once I got out of the system, I could catch up.
Then they told me that the staff was caring. Now, when I found out that this statement wasn't accurate, I was very mad.
Don't get me wrong-not all of the staff is bad. But some will either straight up tell you that they don't care, tell you that they care but really don't, or they come to work in a nasty mode because of their own problems.
And when I first came to Saint Christopher's, I was full of anger and ready to take it out on the world. I really needed someone to talk to so that I could sort out the hidden issues behind my round face and pretty smile.
The thing that got me confused was that even though I was an angry child, I knew that I wasn't the only angry child on that whole campus. There were some children who were worse than me and they had problems that I had only heard about.
But I looked around and saw that they really weren't upset or they didn't seem to be thinking the same angry thoughts that I was. These children did the same things that I did every day. Went through the same problems that I went through. But yet they didn't seem as affected as I did. What made them seem to be a little bit more happier than me?
Mentors to the Rescue
My mother and father always told me about these mythological things in life, like the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. They told me about Superman and Batman and all the other things that possess the powers to make every child happy.
But they never told me about the best hero ever invented. They never told me about the people who have the power to make every child they encounter happy. These people aren't mythological. They go by the name of "Mentor."
I never knew about mentors until one day when I was very upset. I was crying in my room because I missed being at home and talking to my parents. So one of my cottagemates came into my room and told me that she would talk to me after she came back from going out with her mentor. I asked her what a mentor was and she told me. And for those who don't know, I'll tell you.
A mentor is someone who can be a positive role model in your life. Someone who takes on the role of being a big sister or brother. In some cases they even take on the role of your mother and father.
A mentor is someone you can talk to when you need to spill out your soul. And you never have to worry about your mentor never being there. My experience with my mentor helped me see past the negative. And I would like to share my experience with everyone.
Every time I looked around St. Christopher's, all I saw were children with their mentors. I saw children going on home visits with their mentors. Children going shopping with their mentors. And I felt really left out.
And the more I looked, the more I realized that I wanted a mentor too. So I was left in a bind. And day by day I was becoming more and more upset. Until&
I had to go to Nyack every Monday to see my sisters. And I used to have a regular driver who took me every week. But for some reason they told him that he couldn't drive me anymore.
So they asked a crisis team worker named Karen Smith to drive me. As she drove me I still was mad about not having my regular driver, but as I tried to stay mad I found myself telling my whole life story to a person I barely knew.
And soon Karen became my regular driver. Every week I would look forward to going to Nyack so that I could talk to Karen and she could give me the advice that I needed. And surprisingly, I took the words she used and made them useful in my life.
She Really Cared
I soon found myself really caring for Karen like she was one of my family members. And for the first time in a long time, I found someone who cared for me too. Karen is someone I had to meet in order to finally trust again.
But I tried to not let her know that I really wanted her to be my mentor, because of a previous situation I'd been in. I really started to like this one lady who used to work in my cottage. But when she got moved to another cottage, she forgot about me and made someone else her mentee. After that, I didn't want a mentor.
But finally I spilled the beans. And the caring from Karen didn't stop. In fact, she really started cracking down on me HARD.
Karen always made sure that I did my best in everything. And whenever she got the chance, she always took the time to talk to me and to tell me right from wrong. I felt that even when she was not around, she was still looking over me. And I gave Karen the title not only of my "mentor" but of "my conscience."
Every time I was about to do wrong, I heard Karen telling me what I needed to hear and setting me straight. And I felt her pushing me in the direction of where I needed to go. (Not actually pushing me, but you know what I mean.)
And every time I did something good and ran to tell her, Karen said "Good." Now, to someone else, that would mean nothing, but to me that meant a lot.
But there was one thing that started to bother me about my relationship with Karen.
On my campus there is a tradition between mentors and mentees. It is called "The scarf swap." Which means that your mentor has to buy you a scarf when they feel that you are doing really good.
Every time I saw a girl in my cottage walking around with a scarf given to her by her mentor, it made me feel really upset. Sometimes I felt that I should just go up to Karen and ask her, "What is up with the scarf!?!"
But I also felt that I shouldn't. I felt that when Karen was ready to give me a scarf, and when she thought that I deserved a scarf, then I would be very happy with the scarf that she gave me.
But when would that be?
One day I wanted to go shopping, so I asked Karen to take me. Of course she said yes. And she took me to the Old Navy mall. We did a lot of window shopping. We looked at things that were nice looking and things that we would rather not look at. We looked at the cute boys, the ugly boys, the dogs, and all of that. We laughed at almost everything.
I picked out some things that I liked (with the help of Karen) and she bought me something to eat.
Then, from across the street, there it was-staring me in the face. It was the most beautiful scarf that I ever saw.
We finished eating and she took me into that store to get some glasses (Karen has about 200 pairs of glasses). I picked up the scarf and walked around the store with it. Karen looked at me and told me to put the scarf on the counter. Then she paid for it. YES! I finally had my mentor scarf.
When I walked back in the cottage, it was like I had a special glow to me. When everyone saw me with my scarf, I was bombarded with questions. And when all the other girls who had been through the scarf swap found out, it was like I was invited to join a special underground club.
I felt mad important and that made me walk around with better self-esteem. So not only did getting a mentor make me feel more accepted by my peers, but I felt better accepted by myself.
Having a mentor also brings problems. It really hasn't come down to big problems. It's basically a jealousy thing.
Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of staff, and not everyone can get the exact person that they want for their mentor. So there can be a lot of jealous people floating around.
I have come across a couple of jealous people. There was one girl who my mentor knew before she knew me. So when the girl came to campus, she was all up under Karen. And it really got me upset.
It got me so mad that I was to the point of wanting to fight this girl. (And she was one big girl!) But Karen and I had a talk and she told me that even though she is my mentor, she still has to be there for all of the children. And I understood.
Turned My Life Around
I can honestly say that having Karen Smith as a mentor did a lot of good for me. She helped me to change myself in a lot of ways. She helped me educationally, because she always made sure I was in school. She helped me mentally, because she was always there when I thought I was about to lose my mind. And she was there emotionally, because she always took my feelings seriously. These are the things I needed in my life so I wouldn't flip. And I think that without Ms. Karen Smith, my life would definitely be something you hear about on "America's Most Wanted."
Advice From Me to You
For anyone in the system reading this, the best advice that I could possibly give would be to get a mentor. And a mentor doesn't always have to be a staff person. A mentor could be a family member that you look up to, a teacher, or anybody.
Having a mentor helped me fit one more missing piece into the
puzzle of my life.
"Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc."