As we approach the end of the year, the BEST Kids team wanted to continue to highlight the people that make our program possible: our mentors and mentees! Despite the pandemic, we were able to catch up with a few of our mentoring matches. In this post we will be highlighting one of our older youth, Cynthia, and her mentee, Andrea. Take a look at our team’s conversation with Cynthia and Andrea below. Thank you so much to Cynthia and Andrea!
BK: Meet Cynthia and Andrea!
C: My name is Cynthia Jackson. I’m 22 years old and I’ve been in foster care since I was 15, shortly after the birth of my daughter. I joined BEST Kids in 2017 during my senior year of high school.
A: My name is Andrea Cilliers. I’m 31 years old and moved to the DC area from Chicago a few years ago. I’d participated in volunteer work prior to moving to DC and knew that I wanted to continue to volunteer when I moved to the area. When I found BEST Kids in 2018 it just felt right. I truly felt it was God leading me here. I was matched with Cynthia shortly after and the rest is history.
BK: Tell us a little about your relationship.
C: I met Miss Andrea in March of 2018. I’d had a mentor with BEST Kids before and was a little unsure about being re-matched. But, meeting Miss Andrea was fun. I’d never had anyone in my life who wanted to just be there for me. Anytime I’m feeling down, need advice, or simply want to talk to someone, I know I can call my mentor and we can talk about anything. Both my mentor and the staff at BEST Kids have helped me prepare for the outside world - from advocating for myself through emancipation to changing placements several times and beyond. While Miss Andrea came into my life as my mentor, over the past two years, she has become a true friend.
A: Like Cynthia said, we’ve been matched since early 2018, so just over two years at this point. My relationship with Cynthia is probably a little bit different than the average BEST Kids’ mentor/mentee relationship. When you think of foster care you think of younger children or teens but Cynthia was 20 years old when we were matched and she’s 22 now. We aren’t that far off in age and she’s always had access to her own phone so we’ve used FaceTime, texts, and calls to connect a lot more than a younger mentee probably would. While being matched with a mentee as old as Cynthia is not exactly, what I expected when I first heard of the program, it’s been amazing. Cynthia has become a staple in my life and someone I can truly call a friend. Our relationship is perfect for us.
BK: What was your favorite activity with your mentor/mentee?
C: Miss Andrea and I went kayaking with Team River Runner at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last year. I’d never been kayaking before and was hesitant to go because I can’t swim. But, Miss Andrea encouraged me and was with me the whole time. Once we got out on the water I ended up having a lot of fun. That was a great experience and I would love to do it again.
A: That’s probably my favorite activity as well! Team River Runner is a great organization and it was good to get out on the water. I find water activities so calming.
BK: How have you grown from being paired with your mentor/mentee?
C: Having a mentor has completely changed my outlook on life because I have someone who feels like a best friend. I wish I had known about mentoring earlier in my life. The support of my mentor and the team at BEST Kids has meant the world to me, and I hope to one-day pass that support along by becoming a foster parent to a child who has had a difficult experience like me.
A: Cynthia had a lot of changes in her life right after we were matched. Our journey to get to know one another took a lot of flexibility. But, getting to know her and watching her advocate for herself and others even when she’s dealing with tough situations has caused me to reflect a lot on myself. I’m in constant awe of her. It’s also great to get out and just have some fun!
BK: How has being a part of BEST Kids impacted you?
C: My journey has not been easy. After entering foster care, I was separated from my siblings, placed in over 10 foster homes, lost my mother at a young age, went through emancipation, and more. Before joining BEST Kids, it was hard for me to open up and talk about some of the experiences I’ve been through. But since being a part of the program and being matched with Miss Andrea, I’ve come a long way. Over the years in the BEST Kids program I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer, try new experiences, feel empowered, advocate for myself and other youth in foster care, make a lifelong friend, and be a part of a loving community.
A: The beautiful thing about meeting Cynthia at this stage in her life is that it has allowed me be truly reflective on my younger years. I’ve been able to relate to Cynthia by thinking of myself at that age and honestly, I don’t think that I would have handled many things as well as Cynthia does. She’s simply amazing. She’s become a good friend and really important person in my life. I cherish our relationship because while I can be there for her, she is also there for me. There are many things that Cynthia has experienced, like motherhood, that I have not yet encountered. Cynthia is full of wisdom and courage and being her mentor pushes me to better just as much as it pushes her. Our relationship is truly a two-way street.
BK: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your relationship with your mentor/mentee?
C: I have asthma so during the pandemic a lot of things are on hold for me. But, my mentor has been there for me the whole time. We talk often and I know she’s always there to help me when I need her.
I received COVID assistance through BEST Kids. I’m very grateful for the team’s help. I mostly used that money to pay my phone bill. I’m in the process of looking for a new job and keeping my phone on so that I can get calls for interviews and things has been really important.
A: Thankfully, my relationship with Cynthia has not been impacted drastically. I usually travel a lot for work and being grounded at the moment means that I’ve actually had more time to talk and connect with Cynthia. While we have not been able to do much exploring this year, I’m happy to say that we have remained connected and even got to see each other in person a few times to catch up. We’ve been following social distance guidelines, of course, but have been able to take a few walks, go bowling, and even get a massage.
Though our relationship has not been impacted negatively through COVID, we know that is not the case for many mentoring relationships through BEST Kids. My relationship with Cynthia is a little different because she is a little older and has always has access to a phone. I know that I can always get in touch with her and even before the pandemic we were connected via FaceTime, text, and calls a lot more than matches with younger mentees. I can’t imagine what this would have been like if she did not have access to a phone and I was unable to get in touch with her. Amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is clear, staying connected to others is critically important.
BK: What is one thing you would like to share with anyone considering becoming a BEST Kids mentor or supporter?
C: Without programs like BEST Kids, children and young adults in the foster care system may not have a loving and supportive community. I wish I had known about mentoring earlier in my life because I think it would have really helped with learning healthy coping habits. In the past, I had trouble with my emotions and often let me attitude get the best of me. I can look back now and learn from my behavior and with the help of my mentor, the BEST Kids program, and the Foster Care system I understand more about the power of a positive attitude and how to look at life differently.
The BEST Kids program isn’t just a fun program that provides unique opportunities, it is also important for kids in the foster care system to build trust with an adult figure who is there because they really care. Now that I am aging out of the system I hope to someday be a foster parent to take care of a child who also had a difficult experience like me.
A: BEST Kids is a community of support and love that fosters diversity and inclusion more than any other organization that I’ve been a part of. Becoming a mentor with BEST Kids and befriending Cynthia has been one of the best decisions I’ve made since moving to the DC area. Without a network of support, it would be challenging for anyone to overcome most of life’s obstacles. Being a part of this program connects us as neighbors in this community and speaks life into the idea that no one should have to feel alone because we can truly all benefit from the gifts of others. The reach and impact these programs can have on the youth as well as the volunteers is both tangible and intangible. We can see the transformation of a person’s outlook and circumstance that permeates throughout the rest of their life. I am fortunate to have found this program and to have been matched with Cynthia.
You can help support the mission of BEST Kids and help keep mentor/mentee matches - like Cynthia and Andrea - together through COVID and beyond by giving to BEST Kids today! Give now!
We are traditionally accustomed to taking a moment around this time in the year to express thankfulness and gratefulness for what we have. People express this through a myriad of ways, including feasting or gathering with loved ones. But it is safe to say that this year is quite different. Being able to celebrate this time of year with loved ones may not be an option for many of us. I don't think anyone has experienced a Thanksgiving or holiday season quite like this one. I, for one, am simply grateful that I have made it this far into the year - a year which has forced me to take stock of those things that I still have that are important to me and keep me going. Our youth and families teach us this. Our young people, who are eagerly awaiting permanency within the foster care system, demonstrate resilience and endurance every day. They know too well what it feels like to experience setback after setback and find themselves still standing and moving forward with those things which are most important.
We at BEST Kids have had to learn a little bit about that this year. From navigating a global pandemic, to racial injustices that directly affect our young people, to large funding cuts, we have definitely had our share of adversity this year. But even in the midst of it all, we find ourselves grateful for those things that are most important, especially our community of amazing mentors. We have seen our mentors continually step up and support whether that be learning how to video chat so they can keep up virtually with their mentee, asking the hard questions about race during our Solidarity Sessions this summer, or soliciting donations among their networks when BEST Kids expressed the urgent need for funding. We've had such a hard year but we are so grateful at the same time!
I am so proud of our staff, our community, our partners, our supporters, and our youth for making Art of the Matter: The REMIX a huge success, in my opinion. For this to have been our organization’s first time ever having a virtual benefit concert, I must say it was a true pleasure to see everyone come together to make it happen. What I value most about the process and experience is the community partnership, community engagement, and community empowerment it took to bring what once was simply an idea into full fruition. It goes to show the impact that people coming together in support of a cause as important as empowering youth in foster care through one on one mentoring can make.
To date we have raised $49,214.74 towards our goal, which speaks volumes when a pandemic and world challenges are currently happening. It is amazing what community can do when we come together. We had just over 13,000 views of the show that we are aware of, and that is only including the days the show actually aired. This does not include the views that have continued to happen since the completion of the show because it is still viewable on our website. Spreading awareness of our cause was one of our main goals and I believe we did indeed achieve that in a major way.
I can’t exclude the fact that being a part of the show and wearing multiple hats as co-host with KyleOnTheMic, performer as Dan’Talisha Nicole, and Development Director of BEST Kids was an absolute blast! It was hard work for sure, but was well worth it all. Ultimately, I must say I am well pleased with how everything turned out and just want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to every single person involved no matter what capacity. We could not have done this without YOU!
And lastly, I just want to say that it is not too late to donate and continue to spread the word about the event and our cause here at BEST Kids. We work extremely hard to continue to support our youth efficiently and effectively to the best of our ability. Please feel free to encourage people to watch the show by visiting bestkids.org/live.
Again, THANK YOU!
It has been one year since I joined the BEST Kids team and it has been an incredible journey ever since. I feel very fortunate to work with brilliant youth and committed mentors. Looking back on just this year, I am astounded at what we have gone through as a community. However, I am even more impressed by the collective effort in support of the BEST Kids mission. The global pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on countless lives and especially on the lives of our young people. Yet despite these difficulties, BEST Kids mentors have been unwavering in their commitment to our youth.
During these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for our young people to have a mentor they can turn to. Many of our youth are facing an array of problems that have been compounded by COVID, including the deficiencies of distance learning, isolation from peers, and complications at home. No mentor can solve these issues, nor should they be expected to, but the consistent presence of a mentor has been an immense source of relief for our mentees. Our youth often feel more confident in their ability to deal with the numerous obstacles in their path when they have an adult friend walking with them.
Supporting mentors and mentees has reinforced my conviction in the transformative power of mentorship to bolster the human spirit. The BEST Kids community has confronted challenges of our time with courage, from extending additional assistance to families in response to COVID, to engaging in meaningful conversations about race. I have no doubt our community will continue to work confidently for our youth despite the troubles that may arise. And with ART of the Matter around the corner, we have a wonderful opportunity to invite our family, friends, and professional networks to share in the joy of mentoring youth in foster care.
In times of crisis we often find ourselves connecting with and relying on loved ones for moral support and a safe place to stay. As many of us are exploring working remotely, perhaps for the first time, some have elected to ride out this storm with their families whether they are a town away, a state away or even on the other side of the country. We've began connecting with family, friends and coworkers virtually as we all try to find a new sense of normal. Despite all of this I can't help wondering what normal looks like for our youth right now.
The sad truth is that social distancing has left kids in foster care almost completely socially isolated. The luxuries we've come to count on are sources of security our youth have been left without. By it's very nature, foster care can strip someone of their sense of hope, identity and security just by removing them from their home and families. The situation we are facing and the grim realities our youth are facing could not be more polar opposites.
We can quarantine with our families but our youth haven't been able to visit their loved ones. Too often our youth are only able to visit their loved ones once a month but due to risk of infection many family visits have been postponed indefinitely.
Many of us have a place to live but far too many youth in foster care don't have a place to call home. There's a shortage of foster placements leaving our most vulnerable youth without somewhere to feel safe and secure.
We've adapted to Facetime meetings and zoom but the connections our youth have built with others have been suffering. With lower rates of access to technology it has been more difficult for our youth to attend school, connect with friends and find other activities that could instill a sense of normality.
On top of all of this, now even their identity is under attack. 89% of the youth in DC foster care are African American and the global protests for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality have left many wondering what it means to be a person of color in this country.
Even though we have not been able to see our kids, they have been at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. BEST Kids has been working from the start of the pandemic to make sure that our youth feel protected, connected and represented. We have delivered care packages, distributed web accessible devices, developed remote mentoring protocols, and have brought together DC's best experts to speak with our kids about what these protests mean and what they can do about it themselves.
While mentoring is just one method of trying to address a much bigger issue, this global pandemic has laid bare the systemic issues that have allowed so many youth in foster to slip through the cracks. And like any good mentor, we may not have the capacity to fix everything but we can do our best to make sure our youth feel empowered during a time where so many things feel outside of our control.
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