El Centro, CA — The Foster Youth Mentoring Program had its first orientation and training course Saturday afternoon in El Centro.
The course included topics such as program requirements, application process, mentor-mentee matching process, confidentiality, advocacy, mandated reporting, and Trust-Based Relational Intervention training. Speakers were Michelle Smith, El Centro Mayor Alex Cardenas —executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County, Alfonso Ruiz of Imperial County Department of Social Services, and Annette Rea—school teacher. Eight individuals attended the training.
Michelle Smith, foster youth mentor coordinator with El Centro based Amaris Ministries, said the mentoring program is for those who might not have the time or might not be able to bring a foster child into their home.
“Often, that mentoring relationship has more of a lasting impact than actual fostering because you stick with that child no matter what foster home they’re going. You are their mentor.”
“This is our first orientation and training,” Smith said. “We are planning on having them every two to three months throughout the year on an on-going basis.”
The initial idea for the foster youth mentoring program began when Smith was residing in San Diego, CA. While she was a college student in San Diego, her parents had taken in a foster child for a year. And that left her with a lasting impression.
Further scrutiny of the foster system and hurting children, according to Smith, had opened her eyes to a whole other world that existed in the foster system. “My heart goes out to people who are hurting.”
When Smith returned to Imperial Valley, she researched foster youth mentoring programs or services in Imperial Valley. Nothing. Then, Smith asked Nicole Rothfleisch, founder, president, and executive director of Amaris Ministries —“Is there a mentoring program in Imperial Valley?” Rothfleisch replied, “No, nothing like this exsists. Do you want to start one?”
Thus, in March 2017, the Foster Foster Youth Mentoring Program was born. Reaction from the community was favorable according to Smith.
“The response has been incredible. It just shows how much of a need there is for mentoring here in the valley for foster kids. From those who are in the field working with foster kids, their initial response was ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve been praying for this.’ ‘This is exactly what we need. This is what the kids exactly need ’ ‘I’ve been wanting to work with foster kids for a long time but I haven’t known how or what to do.’”
One of the participants attending the orientation and training was Victor Ayala, a father of two children. Ayala said he learned about various encounters with taking in a foster child; and bonding activities with the children which are fun such as taking them to the park, movies, and getting pizza, just having a good time.
“I like kids. I got nieces and nephews and I love pizza. I love to be there for a kid in need. I have two boys —14 and a ten-week-old child,” Ayala said.