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Foster Youth Mentoring: Stepping Up
By Chris Anderson

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Forgotten Children?

It didn't take long, in my conversation with Step Up Director Lisa Walker, for the heart of this foster youth mentor program to come springing to the table. "This ministry is here to plant the seed of hope that there is goodness," Lisa said. Her statement seemed to stop me in my tracks. How different would my life be if I weren't quite sure about the content of that statement?

Many of San Diego's 7,000 foster kids, however, will battle with this question for their entire lives, never quite knowing if this is truly possible. I don't need to remind anyone that the question of goodness must first be answered before one can believe in a good God.

Step Up: What It's All About

A mentor helping a child with his homework
A mentor helping a child with his homework

As is often the case with the most effective ministries, simplicity is the foundation that Step Up operates from. Simple commitment and simple devotion brand the hearts of each of its faithful volunteers.

Lisa has been working with this ministry of mentors through the Rock Church since February 2004. She spends much more time with the kids in this program-on a daily basis-as she is a county as foster care social worker. Because this is her fulltime job, Lisa has been able to see the powerful effects various traumas have on these kids firsthand. But as she and the mentors in the Step Up program keep it simple, they're able to witness the love and power of Jesus working through them to create positive effects.

And You Thought Proverbs 22:6 Was Just about Parenting

Kudos to you if you're a faithful parent teaching your children the basic principles of God's word. Children in the county foster care system are being trained up too, but for what? To stick up for themselves at all costs and to hit when they get mad?

This is not a stab at the system; it's a stab at reality for these kids.

Solid values are a rare commodity for most of these youngsters because they haven't experienced solid living. "A mentor can be a profound influence just by being a normal human being," Lisa emphasized. But don't just take it from her.

Josephina, one of Step Up's current participants said, "I have gotten closer to Jesus because I've learned that He forgives. I know because I have a Bible thanks to my mentor... I always learn something new whenever I'm with her, and [I] feel comfortable because she cares for me."

Josephina is currently living in a foster care group home, and currently being mentored by Barbara Borowy, a general surgeon for the Navy. Thanks to Barbara, Josephina not only gets to leave the group home once in a while to do something fun, she gets to have someone there for her in the all too likely event that "home" won't be stable for the long run.

Most of the kids in the county foster care system have been there for more than 10 years. During this time, they haven't been in the same placement for more than a year. But, whether or not Josephina ends up in a permanent home, another group home, Juvenile Hall or a mental institution, she knows Barbara will be paying her a visit no matter what.

As for Barbara, with the hectic schedule of a doctor, she can hardly be stereotyped as someone with an abundance of free time on her hands. But, because she's one of those rare people who understand priorities and the Step Up program's concept of simplicity, she finds the time.

Reaching a Generation by Reaching Individuals

Sometimes just spending a little time together makes all the difference
Sometimes just spending a little time together makes all the difference

My small experience working alongside mentors has revealed that Christians are sometimes put off by the idea of mentoring because they have a savior mentality when it comes to one-on-one ministry. They seem to be vulnerable to the thought that being a mentor means the whole show is riding on them. They somehow think this requires them to be on their best behavior 100 percent of the time.

Not only is this impossible, but in the business of saving, equipping and sending, any attempt to influence through anything but total transparency will usually result in more harm than good. This approach to our public walk with the Lord comes from a belief that our righteousness is all we have to offer the Kingdom.

But, in a ministry like Step Up, nothing could be more inappropriate.

"This is a culture of hopeless individuals," Lisa went on to say. "They simply need to know there are people who won't leave and who won't abuse them. Whatever your gift, it has use."

With simplicity as the theme, Step Up's mentors keep their sites on the prize and not on their abilities. "It's not about money or experience. It's about time. If you can make a commitment and show up on time, you're qualified."

That pretty much covers anyone. Whether or not you think about it much, one thing most of us have plenty of, compared to these kids, is hope.

The Rock FFA?

It could happen. And, knowing Lisa with her relentless faith, it most likely will. An FFA is a licensed Foster Family Agency, which handles foster care, adoptions and a host of other services for the youth in the foster care system. As more Christians open their homes to these broken children, the more successful the system will become.

Be on the lookout for upcoming Step Up orientation sessions. Lisa is scheduling the next Step Up mentor training in January. Currently there are over 100 people on the list of volunteers. However, there is three times that number of children waiting to be mentored. Lisa has her work cut out for her. But, as we know, she'll keep it simple.

For more information on how to get involved, you can contact Lisa Walker at [email protected] or 619.757.9599.

For more information about the Foster Youth Mentor Ministry, click here »