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.
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:
About the Blog
Welcome to the BEST Kids blog page!