BY TARA BONAPARTE
When I first came to Saint Christopher's, a residential treatment center for foster youth in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 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.
One day I was crying in my room because I missed being at home and talking to my parents. So one of my cottage-mates 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.
After that, every time I looked around St. Christopher's I saw children with their mentors. And the more I looked, the more I realized I wanted a mentor, too.
I had to go to Nyack every Monday to see my [sisters]. And I used to have a regular driver that took me every week. But for some reason he couldn't drive me anymore, so they asked a crisis team worker named Karen Smith to drive me. I found myself telling my whole life story to a person I barely knew. Every week I looked forward to going to Nyack so that I could talk to Karen and she could give me the advice I needed.
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. I felt that even when she was not around, she was still looking over me. I gave Karen the title not only of "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.
On my campus there is a tradition where your mentor buys you a scarf when they feel that you are doing really good. Sometimes I felt that I should just go up to Karen and ask her, "What is up with the scarf!?!?"
One day she took me to the mall. We did a lot of window shopping. Then, from across the street, there it was, staring me in the face - the most beautiful scarf that I ever saw.
She took me into that store and I picked up the scarf. Karen looked at me and told me to put it on the counter. Then she paid for it. YES! When I walked back in the cottage, it was like I had a special glow to me.
Karen Smith helped me change in a lot of ways. She always made sure I was in school. She was always there when I thought I was about to lose my mind. She always took my feelings seriously. These are the things I needed in my life so I wouldn't flip.
Having a mentor helped me fit one more missing piece into the puzzle of my life.
Foster Care Youth United,
(c) Youth Communication, New York, N.Y.