Mentorship Matters: Real Stories

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Mentorship Matters Real Stories

Mentorship Matters: Real Stories

In an atmosphere such as foster care where impermanence and instability prevail, many young people and families lack a solid support system. Children, young adults, and parents often find themselves with no one to help bear their burdens or walk with them through seasons of difficulty. Mentorship provides a foundational, supportive, and loving relationship that directly challenges the pain that abandonment and loneliness can cause. We spoke with members of First City Church in Pensacola, Florida, who are stepping in to mentor parents and families in their community and proving just how much mentorship matters.

Mentorship Matters to Parents…

Three years ago, Pastor Rick Hazelip of First City Church noticed the desperate help that children and families needed in the four counties surrounding his church. There was a shortage of beds for kids in foster care, and families seeking to regain or maintain custody found themselves without much help when it came to meeting state requirements.

After lots of prayer and searching, Rick met Lifeline, a nonprofit providing multiple essential services for families and one of For Others’ Pillar Partners. One service is Families Count, a state-approved parenting class that many families are required to attend to keep or regain custody of their children. The course is presented according to state regulations and integrates Bible scripture into the curriculum.

Three years after starting Families Count at Rick’s church, all the classes are at max capacity, and still, caseworkers are telling families to arrive anyway to see if the church can let them in. In fact, out of every parenting class offered by the state of Florida, the Families Count class has the highest rate of success by a long shot.

One parent shared with Rick, “I’ve been to three classes, and I’ve never had one like this before.”

What sets the Families Count parenting course apart? A caseworker once asked this question at a luncheon hosted by First City Church. Pastor Rick was about to answer when, to his amazement, another caseworker stepped in to answer for him. In addition to providing transportation, childcare, and a meal, they said that every attendee is assigned a mentor to walk with them during the class and beyond.

“They don’t have support networks,” Rick says of the parents who attend. “We’re creating a safety net. [We] do it so you have someone to walk with from now on for the entire case plan until your home is healthy and safe.”

All of the mentors volunteer, and their role can be as simple as a shoulder to cry on or an accountability partner. Even once the class ends, mentors frequently keep up with the parents they partnered with. There’s no judgment or shame, just genuine care and relationship.

The impact is astounding. Many parents and mentors form incredible friendships, and several volunteers from Families Count have gone to battle for the parents outside the church walls. One mother’s child was kidnapped by a family member and taken across state lines. The family member threw accusations at the mother and tried to take her to court. That’s when members of First City Church stepped in to fund the legal fees and got her child back.

“I’ve never had anyone fight for me like that,” the mother said.

to Mentors…

The mentors of Families Count are helping parents change their lives with the love of Jesus, but all of them will say the relationship is just as valuable to them. Erica and Jesse, a couple who attend First City Church, taught a Families Count class and serve as mentors. If they hadn’t been asked directly, they would never have known about it. Now, however, they say that they’ve been impacted even more than the parents who attend.

“When you teach anything, you’re going to learn more than the student’s going to learn,” Jesse says. He and Erica were impressed with the curriculum and how it integrated the Bible.

He goes on to say that mentorship taught him how to have more compassion, and he learned to love people better regardless of their situation and how they got there. Mentorship meant recognizing that all people stand on equal ground and being unafraid to reach out to strangers and love them.

For Erica, the teaching and mentoring experience taught her increased empathy. The class hits home for her on a personal level.

“[This] would’ve been really powerful for my family,” she says.

Erica comes from a family that she says could have benefitted from a course like Families Count, and because of her experience, she sees clearly how important mentorship is to keep families in the course and help them implement positive changes where necessary.

The couple gives an example from one of their class sessions. One week focuses on the stages of development in children and young adults. Many parents have never heard of this concept, and Erica watched as eyes around the room literally grew wider. One mother even shared, “This explains my whole life.”

Erica recalls that powerful day with amazement. “You literally change that person’s life just by giving them the education.”

Erica and Jesse aren’t professionals, yet with just a few weeks of training and reviewing the curriculum, all they really needed to do was care and show the love of Jesus.

…and to Kids

Parents and mentors aren’t the only ones who walk away from the experience with lasting impressions. The kids in childcare during the class see their parents taking charge and making positive changes. They also see that the volunteers who watch over them every week are there by choice, consistently showing up for no gain other than being of service.

Many of the families who attended the Families Count course now call First City Church their home, and several returned to the class to become mentors, themselves. Erica and Jesse both keep in contact with former students, nurturing those relationships well beyond the final day of class. They also recruit other church members to surround these families with even more support and fellowship.

“You will see lives changed,” Jesse says. “Even if it’s the smallest thing, even if it’s the hardest person in the class, you will see a change by the end.”

Mentorship matters because people matter. Whether a child or an adult, having someone to offer comfort during hard times and celebrate successes can change the course of someone’s story. Even just a couple of hours per week can significantly alter the course of someone’s life. We invite you to join the For Others collective as we champion people like Rick, Erica, and Jesse on their mission to help families stay together and see their joy renewed.

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