Meet Nicole - Nicole's journey to becoming a difference maker began when she witnessed an injustice a family member endured with the social services system. Nicole knew then that she wanted to be part of the solution and bring justice to all families.
Now, Nicole works to reunify and stabilize families as the African American Special Skills Reunification Social Worker. Nicole acknowledges that there are many misconceptions of the foster care system. “People think we are trying to take everyone’s kids and ruin their lives-that our goal is to separate families. The reality is that we're working to protect children and do what is best for the families. Unfortunately, that is not always reunification.”
Nicole said she loves to see birth parents take accountability for their kids and be honest with themselves. “I could cry,” she said as she recounted stories where families were reunified and healed. “When parents do the work, use the services, and actually get it, their lives and the lives of their kids are changed. That’s everything.” Another story Nicole shared was of a little girl who is thriving in her foster home. “She began with extreme behaviors but after receiving consistent care she has done a 180. She is now excelling in every area of her life, not only in her behaviors, but in her attitude as well. She may not be reunifying, but we do whatever is best for each child.” In reflection, Nicole said “I have learned how to care for people and see people as God sees them.”
Meet Erica - She has been volunteering with Aging UP as a mentor for over 2 years now.
Erica works as a campaign manager for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raising funds for cancer research. She chose to become a mentor because she’s experienced the power of mentorship in her own life. In both sports and music, Erica had coaches who saw her potential and helped her grow.
“I didn’t know if I would be selected because I have not had the experiences that these kids have had.” But, as Erica learned, it is not a similar experience that makes a great match. What her mentee really needed was someone to believe in her and to be a constant in her life.
Erica shared that at a young age she became aware that not everyone had what she did. “I am part Filipino and grew up in an affluent area but when I visited the Philippines in middle school for the first time, it opened my eyes. There were kids begging and families living in homes built of cardboard boxes or anything they could find. I feel very lucky in comparison to many others in the world so I want to do what I can to give back.”
Recently, Erica heard from her mentee’s foster mom that this girl has been opening up more at home since they have been meeting. “She speaks up more and shares who she is and what she wants.”
Erica’s consistency in her mentee's life has allowed her to feel safe, and in turn, to be known. If you have just an hour each week and a desire to make a difference in the life of a child or young adult, mentoring could be a great fit for you!
Meet Cindy - Cindy has a heart for kids that are in need of families. She has experienced this need firsthand as she and her twin brother were adopted out of foster care at 9 months old. Now a mother herself, Cindy would love to mentor foster youth once her kids are older: “Until I can give back in a bigger way, I am blessed to give back financially and help in little ways.” Cindy supports local families by fulfilling tangible needs posted on our Area Needs Database. “We have such a blessed life, I can’t imagine not giving back to kids who are not growing up with all the things my kids have.”
Quite often people are overwhelmed by the great need or unable to commit to taking a child into their home, but like Cindy, we can all do something to help create safe places for vulnerable kids and families.
Meet Jinni and Steve - They heard an announcement one Sunday at church that they just couldn’t ignore. A local nonprofit called Safe Harbor was looking for volunteers to help provide respite and support to foster families. Jinni had just retired and had already decided she was going to find somewhere to volunteer. “The respite night it is just once a month for a couple hours. It is so do-able, there was no way we could say no, even if I wanted to. It was so easy and something pretty much anyone can do.”
For Jinni and Steve the most significant moment was getting to connect with foster parents at an appreciation lunch. “We were able to get to know the whole family beyond dropping off and picking up the kids.” After that day, they began to form a relationship and connect outside of the respite nights, providing ongoing babysitting and other family support. They were even invited to the adoption ceremony!
The couple shared that they’ve received more than they feel they have given. “We are always more blessed when we step in. When we open ourselves up, we get more out of it. We get the opportunity to be a part of someone’s life.”