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Volunteers sought for foster care mentorship program

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 21, 2020

 Becca Rush, left, and Alisia Richardson, right, enjoy spending time together during an outing. The two were paired together through the Child Safe Mentor Program in 2016 and now have a lifelong bond.

Becca Rush, left, and Alisia Richardson, right, enjoy spending time together during an outing. The two were paired together through the Child Safe Mentor Program in 2016 and now have a lifelong bond.

Photo provided by Nicole Malane

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ROYAL OAK — January is national youth mentoring month, and Child Safe Michigan, an affiliate of the Royal Oak-based Judson Center, is offering volunteers the ability to make a difference in the life of a young person who is in foster care.

The mentoring program pairs volunteers with youths ages 7 to 21 based primarily on personality traits and geographic location. The minimum commitment is a year, but officials estimate that 80% of matches extend beyond the requirement.

Child Safe Mentor Program Supervisor Nicole Malane said her favorite part of the program is seeing the youth in foster care smile and grow.

“It’s really awesome to see kids that wouldn’t really talk or trust anyone now hugging their mentor and thanking me,” Malane said. “It’s hard for a lot of kids to gain someone’s trust or for them to trust someone, because they’ve been disappointed.”

Mentors are responsible for a monthly face-to-face meeting, as well as checking in with their mentee on a weekly basis. Child Safe puts on quarterly events and receives tickets to sporting events, museums and more.

Malane said the role of the mentor is to cheer on their mentee, be there to offer support and advice, listen and grow into a trusted friend. Since authoritative figures in their lives usually just tell them where to go, the compassion and stability is often a welcome change, she said.

“Therapists and social workers constantly keep referring kids because they see how much it’s helped them,” she said. “Almost every mentor has told me how much they’ve gained from this experience.”

Becca Rush, 27, of Novi, was paired with Alisia Richardson, 20, whose case was out of Wayne County, in February 2016. They both consider each other family and view their relationship as a lifelong bond.

Rush said she first heard about Child Safe while she was volunteering at a summer camp for children in foster care.

“I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a supportive and loving family and environment, and I just wanted to share that with kids that are less fortunate,” she said. “I love that we got matched based on personality and interests, and that the goal was a long-term relationship we could continue, even after we’re technically no longer in the mentoring program.”

When they first matched, she said, Richardson was interested in learning more about a career in medicine. Rush is an emergency medicine physician. She said they both also enjoy being active, so they scheduled outings to go ice skating and roller skating.

Since being paired, Richardson gave birth to a daughter, Marianna White, who just turned 3. Rush also has a niece of the same age, so they frequently have play dates with the toddlers.

“She’s close with my family, and my family has a similar attachment to her. We all love her, and I’m sure we’ll stay connected forever,” Rush said. “I would say it’s definitely worth it. I started thinking about helping someone else, but at this point, I’ve gained so much from it, I don’t know if it’s more beneficial for me or her. It’s something you’ll treasure forever.”

Richardson, who has been in and out of foster care, said Rush is like an older sister who has helped her mentally, emotionally and financially to continue through life with a sense of purpose.

“It helped me out a lot,” Richardson said. “It’s the best program. I would recommend it to anybody.”

Khadija Walker-Fobbs, chief strategic officer at the Judson Center, has mentored more than 50 youths in foster care over the course of more than 20 years. She said she feels honored to have helped young people learn how to change a tire, fill out forms, pay taxes and rent their own place.

“I don’t think mentoring has to be so formal. What makes an impact at the end of the day is just having somebody to depend on,” Walker-Fobbs said. “Anytime somebody lets you into their space in life, it’s just an honor, and it’s really rewarding seeing some of the wonderful success stories of youth going on to college and just doing so well now.”

She said Child Safe is currently recruiting mentors and is particularly in need of male mentors. Its goal is to recruit 50 new mentors and 50 new mentees this year.

In the past eight years, Malane said, the Child Safe program has seen more than 240 matches, and it mentored 70 children in 2019. Its goals are to teach life skills, positive community involvement and increased self-esteem; establish caring and consistent relationships; and improve age-appropriate behavior at home, school and in the community.

According to Child Safe Michigan, children with a mentor are 55% more likely to attend college or trade school and 52% less likely to skip school.

The program serves youth in foster care in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, which make up approximately 40% of the more than 13,000 children in foster care in Michigan. According to Child Safe Michigan, foster children are among the most at-risk populations in the state — 75% have experienced trauma ranging from neglect to severe abuse.

“Throughout the year, we also offer training for trauma, sex trafficking and safety,” Malane said.

Mentors must be 21 years or older, fill out an application, undergo a background check, interview with a Child Safe staff member experienced in mentoring and attend a detailed training session. The next training session is scheduled for Jan. 25.

For more information, visit www.childsafemichigan.org, email mentoring@childsafemichigan.org or call (248) 353-0921.

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