SAN DIEGO — Do you remember who taught you how to pump gas, took you to get your first driver's license, or gave you advice when you applied for your first job? For many of us, it was our mom or dad.
For many kids in the foster care system, it’s a different story. Some live in group homes or children’s shelters where they’re not exposed to parent figures. Dozens of local kids want a mentor in their life as an adult role model, but there aren't enough.
That's why San Diego County's Foster Youth Mentor Program is looking for mentors to be matched with the 21 girls and 30 boys who are currently on a waiting list.
“It just means the world to have somebody here and know that I'm never going to be alone,” said former foster youth Kaelin.
The 21-year-old told me Amanda started out as her mentor but has since become so much more. The two women now consider each other family.
“You're stuck with me,” Amanda joked.
Kaelin was 15 years old when Amanda stepped in to be her mentor. It was Kaelin's junior year and she says Amanda's influence those last two years of high school was instrumental.
"I was just so stuck, wondering if I should go to a two-year college or a four-year college,” Kaelin reflected.
She said she lacked the confidence to apply to a four-year college, but Amanda encouraged her to do it.
"She made me believe in myself, that I could do it," said Kaelin.
She said she can’t even imagine what her life would be like today without Amanda.
“I would just be just lost, honestly,” Kaelin said.
Amanda has mentored about 10 kids since 2004. Most of them were teenagers when she met them. She says it's an amazing experience you can't really put into words.
"I still talk to almost all of them on a pretty regular basis," Amanda said, "They're all adults now and they're all over the U.S."
She started mentoring when she was only 23, barely past the teenage years herself, which helped her identify with all of the little things a lot of foster youth don’t learn without parents to show them the way.
Kaelin said Amanda taught her how to pump gas, buy car insurance, register at the DMV, apply for health insurance, budget her money, in addition to countless other things.
"If you were never taught that or were exposed to that, then you wouldn't know," Amanda explained.
Amanda and Kaelin both encourage others to consider becoming a mentor and make a significant difference in a foster child’s life.
"I think that every youth, in the system or not, deserves to have a significant adult role model in their life," Amanda said. "The kids in foster care don't always get that, so you might be that one person for the youth in care."
Kaelin, who has no relationship with her biological family, considers Amanda to be her mom.
While not every mentor-mentee relationship develops into such a close bond, Kaelin said having someone outside of the system to talk to and spend time with can mean the world to a foster child.
"I would just say 'go for it,' because she really has changed my life," Kaelin said of Amanda. "I know I don't thank her enough."
Kaelin said Amanda told her in the beginning, "I'm always going to be here," and said she's grateful Amanda is still there for her.
Amanda said she will be for the rest of her life.
If you'd like to learn more about San Diego County's Foster Youth Mentor Program, please call 619-767-5222.