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Love for a Child: More than mentoring

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, the life expectancy of a young woman aging out of foster care is 25; for a young man, it is 29. Approximately 60 percent fail, drop out or are removed from high school and fewer than two percent will earn a college degree. Within two years of aging out of the system, one in four will be incarcerated.

Timmy refuses to become one of these devastating statistics. Now 21 years old, he has worked tremendously to defy the odds.  Not only has he graduated high school on time, but he is currently attending college, pursuing a career in Criminal Justice. His goal is to join the police force.

While he is proud of himself for doing the hard work, Timmy credits being part of Love for a Child for enabling his success.

Love for a Child is a year-round program that provides mentoring for children, youth and young adults in the foster system who have experienced abuse, neglect and/or behavioral issues. Currently, about 70 mentors impact the lives of more than 200 children.

As a nine-year-old, while living at a foster home, Timmy was invited to be part of the Love for a Child programming which kicked off with a week of summer camp allowing kids to be kids.

There, he got to play with other children who were facing similar challenges, make new friends, swim, jump, play and eat endless amounts of s’mores. More importantly, he established valuable relationships with adults who had his best interests in mind and whom he trusted. After a care-free week of fun, camp was over; he was then assigned to a mentor named Joe.

“When I was little, I didn’t realize how important it was to have someone who would listen to me when I talked, someone I could trust,” Timmy said. “With most other adults in my life, I was fearful I’d get in trouble for just about anything I would say or do.”

Timmy fishing at camp
Timmy loved camp. It was a week for him to just be a kid!

Love for a Child mentors establish key relationships with children during the week-long summer camp. After camp, they continue to engage children, visiting them throughout the year to provide guidance, trust and hope.

For Timmy, Joe was present, reliable and trustworthy. Joe was not only a mentor, but a role model and friend; someone to fill the many emotional voids that as a child, Timmy couldn’t identify or understand.

Often, they would go for pizza and talk about life. Joe always made Timmy feel special, like on his thirteenth birthday when they played endless games at Dave & Buster’s, or the time Joe surprised him by filling his apartment with Christmas gifts for Timmy and his sister.

“That is still one of my best Christmases ever,” Timmy said.

As soon as Timmy was able, he knew he wanted to become a Love for a Child mentor. At 18 years-old, he did just that.

Timmy playing with campers during Love for a Child camp

“Because of my experience, I can be the person these kids can talk to when they’re scared or dealing with the trauma,” he said. “I can relate to their feelings; I have been in their shoes. And even when my challenges might have been different from theirs, I just want them to know I am there to listen.”

Timmy volunteers as a Love for a Child counselor at Summer Camp as well as provides year-round mentoring. While he knows what an immense difference Love for a Child made for him, it is equally as special for him as a mentor to now watch changes taking place in the children.

One year, an eight-year-old camper started the week misbehaving and leading the other children to act out. But by the end he was latched onto Timmy, begging for the week to not be over.

“Throughout the week, I worked hard to establish his trust. As he learned about my story, he felt comfortable enough to share his,” Timmy said. “He didn’t want to leave at the end, and I remember feeling the exact same way when I was a camper. For once, he felt completely safe.”

camper and Timmy
Love for a Child programming has come full circle as Timmy now mentors several children, himself.

Timmy currently mentors three children ranging from ages five to twelve. He makes effort to see them once every one or two months. Sometimes they grab dinner or play video games at the foster home and hang out. Regardless of how they spend their time, each child lights up with pure happiness when they see him.

“I am so thankful for Love for a Child coming into my life. All I really hope is that I can do for these kids what Joe did for me. If I can change these kids’ lives and help direct their futures, that will mean everything to me.”

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