“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” — The Holy Bible
I met Carma 23 years ago at a Wendy’s restaurant. The late Sharon Burks, a seasoned counselor from Franklin County Children’s Services, arranged the meeting after interviewing me to be a mentor of young women. I was unaware of the responsibilities, but I was clear about what God commanded me to do, in spite of all the emotional baggage of single parenthood I carried with me at the time.
While driving home from work one evening, I heard a radio program on youth in foster care moving through emancipation. The young woman speaking was living on her own, outside the supervision of the agency. She was 17 but still a child to the challenges of adulthood. She described the loneliness, uncertainty, and fear of not having a support group or family to guide her. I listened to the discussion as if my own child was crying for help; I responded immediately by calling the radio station and asking for more information. In a few weeks, I met my Ruth working behind the counter at Wendy’s and her name was Carma.
She was extremely quiet during our first meeting and too afraid to look at my face. Sharon had shared her troubled life in the system with me during the interview: group homes, foster parents, multiple schools and abuse, resulting in low self-esteem and fear. Carma was a rising senior in high school with good grades and the determination to be the first college graduate in her family. I knew I was her Naomi, and prepared to wrestle with whatever came our way in a plan for success together.
The early years were rocky, including a doomed teenage marriage, a child, divorce, financial blunders and the disappointment of betrayal from so-called friends. Trust was a huge obstacle for Carma — too many individuals had broken promises about adoption along the way and failed to stay in touch with her. I often became perturbed from her rejection and anger due to remnants from her past. Carma tried repeatedly to reclaim and rehabilitate her birth family, beckoning the painful realization that she was now different from them. She learned that she could not rescue them from their values or habits, just because she now had created a new lifestyle based upon positive values and goals.
Keep in mind that 20 years ago, I was not drama-free either. I was working full time, managing marketing at a fledgling Glory Foods, Inc., and encouraging my children to stay calm in light of my divorce litigation. However, the Ruth and the Naomi roles do not require perfection. Transparency, consistency, and honesty are critical in mentor-mentee relationships. I knew I had to be the constant factor in Carma’s world; if all the plates were spinning in her life and mine, we would both be out of control. Her reliance on my critical thinking skills helped me to keep my head cool in heated, complicated circumstances.
She has lived with me several times over the years and my children learned to love her as a big sister, but not without the typical sibling squabbles and jealousy. My friends and family know we are a package deal and accept our relationship as my obedience to God. Children’s Services staff members tout us as one of the most successful mentoring pairs they created due to our longevity and outcomes. For fun, we both like to shop, go to the movies, travel and work on business projects. Some say we even look like each other, unaware that our relationship developed intentionally and not by blood.
Carma beat the odds with a degree in business from Ohio Dominican University and a BS in Paralegal Studies from Capital University. Less than 10 percent of foster youth graduate from college (www.fc2success.org). According to Fostercare.org, 20 percent will be homeless after age 18, 71 percent of the girls will get pregnant by age 21, and 25 percent will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Carma is gainfully employed and a strong community servant for various organizations, including recently joining the national board of Foster Care Alumni of America.
Carma is now prepared to lead and mentor others in the foster care system, and I will be there to help her indefinitely.
Women are the nucleus of innumerable relationships and influences worldwide. If knowledge transfers generationally through mentoring, women will learn best practices from credible sources with success in mind. Replicating the Naomi-Ruth relationship creates family and community sustainability. Ladies, please consider mentoring a younger woman today and unleash benefits for humanity for years to come.