OK, technically my 19-year old friend Marlena is an emancipated foster youth who was part of the Riverside County system. As she shared as last week’s Foster Awareness event (the 9th Annual Walk Your Talk Walk) tears of pride welled up in my eyes as I heard her share about her experiences in the system. She stood up on that podium and gave voice to the countless other youth whose life experiences tell them that they don’t matter. They are invisible and no one cares.
But I didn’t see a statistic speaking from a stage.
I saw my friend.
I grew up with a completely different story from hers. I am a suburban mom with three kids of my own, in fact, I’m old enough to be her mom. She is a college student at Cal Baptist University. I attended college way back in the middle ages in St. Paul, MN. I’ve been married for longer than she’s been on this planet. Her shoe wardrobe is way cooler than mine.
But God had our paths connect, thanks to Inspire Life Skills Training, and I’m so grateful.
She is a remarkable young lady. She’s smart and tough and laughs at my pathetic jokes. She gangs up on me with my other kids when I say ridiculous things and reminds me to not take myself too seriously. She works insane hours, studies like a maniac and well, I won’t talk about what the floor of her room looks like. She is a typical 19-year old college student with her life ahead of her, dreams and struggles like all of us. I like her roommate. She texts faster than anyone I know.
I volunteered to mentor because I was heartbroken when I heard the statistics about foster youth in our own community. It was something I never really understood, or wanted to understand, cocooned as I was in my little Christian life. But God had different plans. I became convinced that this was my problem if it is happening in my community and I say I follow Jesus.
I cannot change the whole system, but I can bring what little I have to befriend one person. I signed up not to save someone who needed saving, but to walk alongside a new friend like a mom would.
She’s been a beautiful addition to my family. Being a part of the foster system happens to be part of her story, but it does not define her. And now I’m part of her story and she’s part of mine.
So, yes, technically she’s an age-out youth. But more importantly, she’s my friend.