When I met my young mentee, my friend, her world was contained within a two-block radius of her home. Her Elementary school was at the end of her block and her daily pattern was; school, home to a house without another person for a few hours until 5PM when her mom returned from work, and then a noisy house until midnight or later. The rest of the family came home in the evening hours, all 6 of them. They all shared a home with about 800 sq. ft., Most, sleeping on couches and the floor.
My friend had a room of her own that barely fit her twin bed. The sheets were covered with dirty clothing. The floor was knee-deep in clothing and many pairs of shoes littered the floor as well. Clothing spilled out of drawers and onto the floor. It was difficult to maintain a calm, non-judgmental attitude about the mess. I’m a pretty organized person. We made cleaning and organizing her room our first priority. When we were done picking up and sorting her clothing into piles needing cleaning, piles that stayed and piles that would be given away, we started a load of laundry. We found a small desk on Craigslist that worked well in her room to give her a place to study and keep her books and papers organized. We also found some organizers at Target for her books/pens/pencils, etc.
My friend made a list of all the things she wanted to do in San Diego. She told me she had never been to the beach! The only time she left the neighborhood was when the Boys and Girls Club took her on outings a few times a year or when her family went camping.
One of the best things we did together was to go sailing. That was my favorite day. By the time we were finished, she was sailing the boat by herself and tacked into the dock perfectly, like a pro! We also went to museums, movies, amusement parks, Disneyland, the beach, parks, biking, go-carting, ice-skating, to fairs, and other fun places.
One day, my friend told me that she wished, more than anything, that her teeth could be fixed. She had a serious issue with her smile . . . she never did! Her two front eye-teeth were misplaced and sat at the top of her gums. Her teeth were crooked and crowded. After a long search, we went to see an orthodontist who said he might be able to help her with Medicaid. Almost miraculously, because her mother had tried before with Medicaid, the Ortho doc made it happen. First she had to get a few teeth pulled by her regular dentist, then she got braces on her upper teeth and was very happy. She gave me her first real smile that day. Unlike other kids who might be embarrassed about braces, she was proud and happy to have them. Within six months, her top teeth were perfectly straight and she was ready for the next part of her treatment.
She eventually entered San Diego High as we continued our outings, once up to Los Angeles to meet my family and to see the Los Angeles Art Museum. We continued our appointments with the Ortho doctor twice monthly as well.
Over time, I think the regularity of our meetings had great impact on my young friend. I watched her gain confidence and trust in our relationship and I know she enjoyed seeing more of the world.
This program impacted me greatly. I had worked with Voices For Children previously and found it difficult to say goodbye to every kid I was placed with after only a short time. But VFC doesn’t allow contact after the court cases are over. The Girls Rising program allowed me to continue a longer relationship with my mentee and for that I’m grateful. Watching the change in my mentee’s behavior, attitude and personality made me feel like my involvement was worthwhile and impactful. I’m looking forward to a new match someday. Thanks, Girls Rising!