Mentoring a foster child can help make a difference

There are 10,000 kids in foster care in Maricopa County alone. Many have never had a positive adult role model in their life, and most are afraid for what their future holds.

It's a huge problem, but one a local organization says could be fixed with a simple solution.


You don't need to be a foster parent and take a child in 24/7, or adopt a child in foster care to make a difference. You can mentor them for as little as eight hours a month, and make a difference as well.

"Our mentor program matches volunteers from in the community with school-aged children in foster care," said Laura Pahules, Director for Arizonans for Children.

Kids need role models, especially kids who've had a rough start at life.

"You need to care, and you need to understand that they're just kids who need someone important in their life," said Pahules. "Someone to care about them, to introduce them to basic life lessons, like how to pump gas, when to say please and thank you. Those are things that a lot of kids in foster care aren't exposed to."

These kids are those who may never find a foster family because their case is trapped in the courts, and they need help now, before they fall through the cracks.

"There are children as young as 13 with a case plan of independent living, which means when they turn 18 years old, they're going to be on their own. On their own with no knowledge of how to pay bills, how to go grocery shopping, where to find housing, or they may not even be aware that they can go to the local colleges for free," said Pahules. "So our mentors are introducing them to all those opportunities. I interviewed a young girl who was seven for the mentor program, who matter-of-factly told me: 'my dad's in prison because he robbed a pharmacy.'"

These are tough circumstances, but with some a little time and care, a mentor can make a big difference.

"A lot of people can't foster or adopt, but everybody can be a mentor," said Pahules. "It takes eight hours a month, and a year commitment to the child."

Derrick Harriman, a former marine, started mentoring six months ago.

"It's just taking that minute to step out and asking yourself: what can I do to make a difference?" said Harriman. "A program like this is a great way to do that."

Like a godsend, Harriman came through the door at Arizonans for Children. His mentee is a 12-year-old boy who lives in a group home. His father is behind bars, and he was homeless on the streets with his mom, and was being abused when he came into the foster care system.

"I got emotional because I was away from my parents, but I was happy," said the boy. To protect his identity, FOX 10 Phoenix has opted to identify the boy as "Tayvon".

Things are looking up for Tayvon, especially when compared to a year ago.

"Not having any food, asking people for money and stuff, being homeless, being abused," Tayvon recounted. "I think about that stuff and I think I'm in a good situation now. So I just try to keep my head up."

There are so many kids who, just like Tayvon, need a mentor.

"We get together on a regular basis and talk about what's going on in his life," said Harriman. "He's a young man and he has a lot of future ahead of him, so a lot of it is trying to instill accountability, discipline, things he can take with him that will always be applicable, no matter what he chooses to do in life."

Fighting in his group home and at school, Harriman is teaching Tayvon to work through his anger.

"Instead of using what was between his ears and his mind to navigate that, he fell back to fighting, and there's gonna be a time where that's not acceptable," said Harriman. "I try to instill in him there's a difference in reacting and responding. He's progressed very well."

"I used to be angry, all the time, like 'get out of my way'," said Tayvon. "Everyday now, I'm working. I have consequences at the house. I started being good at school."

The results speak for themselves.

"100% of the kids that have a mentor in their lives, their grades improved, their attendance improved, but most importantly, their self-esteem and self-worth improved," said Pahules.

Without a positive role model, the statistics are frightening.

"Over 80% of kids in foster cae that age out of foster care are homeless within a year, and even a higher number of girls are pregnant before they're 21," said Pahules. "Less than 3% attend college or vocational school. The prison system is full of kids that have aged out of foster care."

Tayvon doesn't want that for him, and for that matter, neither does Harriman.

"Think about other people you know you have a bad time, other people have worser [sic] times," said Tayvon.

"You know there's a lot of good in him, and he shows it every time we're together," said Harriman, who has him looking to the future, and living by some Marine mottos.

"Be a man of principle. Keep your word. Follow through on your commitments," said Harriman.

Some of the marine mentality has rubbed off on Tayvon.

"Don't wish for it. Work for it. I hope next year I'll be on a basketball team, and then go to college," said Tayvon.

Arizonans for Children is working to bring in more mentors.

Laura: all you have to do is care and be willing to spend time with kids.

It's rewarding. It's fun. It's eye opening. And it makes a huge impact.

"One person: that's all it takes to change a child's life," said Pahules.

The need for mentors is huge, especially male mentors to be matched up with boys who need a positive male role model. Arizonans for Children has 81 kids waiting for mentors, and kids who have done their part, improved their behavior, following rules, have gone through the interview process and are excited to get a mentor.

Arizonans For Children Mentor Program