By: Dorian Thomas
All youth need mentors, but foster youth, especially, need mentors. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis and all of the negative impacts it has had on youth in care, BEST Kids, Inc. is finding a way to empower us through life-changing mentoring. I can attest to this myself, being one of the older youth in care that BEST Kids has positively impacted. My name is Dorian Thomas, and I’m 24 years old. I joined BEST Kids in 2015 and am now one of the 150 youth they serve in the DC area. I was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina and was bought to Southeast, DC at just nine months old. I’ve lived here ever since.
My mentor and I meet one-on-one a few times a month. He is a constant part of my support system and I know I can count on him. As a youth in foster care, I’ve had challenges with having consistent, committed adults in my life. I’ve never seen or heard from my biological father a day in my life and my mother has been in and out of my life since I was born. Thankfully, I’ve been unbelievably blessed to have wonderful men, women, and peers that invest tireless amounts of time, love, and effort into my development. My Aunt and Grandmother are the two women who stepped in to raise me in my mother’s absence. All of the adults in my life have contributed to my growth as a man, and now as a father myself.
As a child I dealt with a lot of negativity including bullying, developing an eating disorder, struggling with my sexuality, being in an abusive relationship, dealing with negative police interaction, and being in foster care. Having fun with someone after you have had a hard week, or being able to get out of your neighborhood to gain exposure to something different whether it’s culture, activities, or something else is the kind of stuff that all youth like me need. This is what mentorship does for youth in foster care, and has personally done for me. Mentors serve as a stabilizing force that keep youth in care going until things are better. This type of servanthood and support has transferred over to the way I parent my daughter.
In the absence of my father, I also attribute my style of fatherhood to male figures I watched on TV shows including Terry Crews on Everybody Hates Chris, Naruto’s Jiraiya, and Oscar Proud from The Proud Family. Their mixture of consistency, sternness, care, understanding, resourcefulness, and fun molded my own brand of fatherhood. My daughter is two years old and being her father has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. When I first held my daughter, I felt an instant love for her. I couldn’t imagine abandoning her. Being a parent is difficult, but I live for seeing my daughter hit her milestones. I feel the greatest joy when she succeeds. And when she is in pain, I feel that pain too. Fatherhood has its ups and downs, but I could not imagine life without her.
I'm thankful for all of the mentors God placed in my life to support me. Their contributions to my life inspire me to pay it forward. I am hopeful that one day more funding across America will be put towards mentorship for youth in foster care so that all youth can have a mentor. There are more than enough adults in this country for this to happen. If more people are able to see the fulfillment of giving back and uplifting a youth in need, great change will come.
While we wait for that change, there are many ways that you can help youth like me today. Here are a few small things that can make a big impact in the lives of youth in foster care:
It is evident that we are living in a world that is ever changing. Our immediate response and attention is required in order for us to manage the change that so easily besets us. This week, BEST Kids staff participated in a team building exercise to discuss how we manage change during transition. Two of the quotes that were a part of our discussion were as follows:
“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Hereclitus (Greek Philosopher)
“Organizations don’t change, people do.” – Unknown
Think about that for a moment. Change is something that will happen. We can’t avoid it, and we certainly shouldn’t ignore it. With all that is going in our nation and globe to include the COVID pandemic, the revolutionary protests in support of Black lives, and the magnified attention on racial injustice in our country, we, the staff and leadership at BEST Kids, are taking the time and opportunity to be very reflective and introspective. We are taking an inward look at the way we do business, and to reassess the strategies and policies we have in place that directly impact and influence the lives of the youth that we serve.
We began to ask ourselves these questions:
Again, the quote says “organizations don’t change, people do.” Well, the people of BEST Kids extends beyond our staff and leadership. The people also include YOU, our supporters and stakeholders. How you show up during these times matters too. I’d like to challenge us all to be very reflective and introspective during these times; to ask ourselves the questions above; and to determine how we might actively be a part of the process of change in a way that continues to empower the youth that we serve and care about, and to help build each other up during these times.
I’ll end with this. Being a part of change does not always mean easy. It is often not void of pain. It requires strength, tenacity, and courage and most often comes with sacrifice. The upside is that we don’t have to go it alone. We are in this TOGETHER! As I encouraged our staff in our discussion earlier this week, I’ll do the same here - We should not just go through change, but we should GROW through it. I hope that you all will join us in this challenge. And my hope and my prayer for each of you is that you will be all the better because of your decision to be the change you want to see.
Expanding Youth Voice with the Youth Advisory Counci
“Youth Voice is nothing without adult action,” stated Dorian Thomas as he spoke on behalf of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) at a town hall meeting. The significance of that quote aligns with the mission of BEST Kids Mentoring program which is to empower youth in foster care to build better futures, one child at a time.
At BEST Kids we seek to help our youth raise their voices as a way to support creative expression and identity formation. We want to continue to expand the voices of the youth by providing them the platform to speak about the complexities of being a child in foster care. Among the many youth voice efforts the YAC is all about teaching young people about the ways media shapes perceptions of themselves and the world around them, and equipping them with the tools to tell their own stories.
Prioritizing our youth perspectives helps them to make decisions that affect their learning and lives, and creating the YAC has put them in positions of genuine leadership and authority. When running a program designed to enhance the lives of the youth, who better to critique it than the youth themselves.
BEST Kids envisioned creating a culture of youth voice where young people’s ideas are both taken seriously and implemented with the support of caring adults. It takes adults willing to share power and expand possibilities and it takes young people willing to take initiative and lead. We hope the Youth Advisory Council can serve as an example of what it takes to make a culture of youth voice a reality.
The COVID-19 (corona) pandemic has created a truly unprecedented situation that affects us all. Our hearts go out to anyone who’s been impacted by the virus, either directly or indirectly. This time has been like no other in that we are forced to live, work, practice self-care, and connect from the same spaces and with the same fervor we would as if we're out in the world. Of all the scenarios we’re taught to prepare for: loss of income, fires, car accidents, floods, health risks, etc., a pandemic is last on that list if mentioned at all.
Despite the limitations, forcibly disconnecting from the physical world around us, quarantine has made space for us to reconnect with ourselves and rediscover our passions, desires, boundaries and the good they do for us. Setting our daily intentions is important now more than ever. Create a schedule outside of working business hours and use the time you would have been commuting to reengage with yourself and practice mindfulness. Consider the following practices: journaling, exercise, revisiting an old business or 5-year plan, goal setting, planning calls with loved ones, or one of my favorite self-care activities, mandala paintings. These activities also apply to time spent with your mentee. By reconnecting with ourselves, we inherently enrich the lives of our youth that much more.
So far this year has been a year like no other. From a landscape of political conflict to social challenges and re-education, from our daily routines and navigating personal goals, to legends passing away, and even worldwide pandemics, this year has shaken us all in some way. Can you just imagine how all of that has affected the young people we care about? Our youth have witnessed our subtle or extreme reactions to this year. They see the news headlines too. The youth absorb what they witness, and ultimately if we seem confused or hurt, they feel it too, but there is one thing we can do to model the right behavior during times like this ...stand united.
If not already, in times like these our mentees must become our extended family. Give your mentee a call, and talk to them. Perhaps play a game online together, spend time telling jokes and riddles, or send them an interesting or informative article via text or email. Let’s be vigilant in building the community we dream of despite our current challenges. Let’s remind our mentees that they are not in this moment alone and that it's okay to feel anxious. This can be a time to rest our minds, talk more, read more, love more, and rebuild a community that is united. Let this bring us closer together.
Thank you for supporting BEST Kids, by supporting the youth at BEST Kids. Thank you for caring, and actually acting on that feeling. Stay safe, and no matter what let’s stay unified.
About the Blog
Welcome to the BEST Kids blog page!