“I always thought that I was a bad kid; that I didn’t deserve anything, didn’t deserve to be happy,” says Ivan.
His dad was a drug addict and mom was an alcoholic. His parents worked a lot, leaving Ivan and his siblings home alone without supervision. Ivan was placed in foster care at 13 years old. “Being in foster care and in group homes, you don’t know what’s next,” Ivan says. “You don’t expect anything. You just live and survive.”
When Ivan was a teenager in foster care, he started attending Orangewood’s Independent Living Program (ILP) workshops learning life skills. But what he remembers most about it was the Orangewood staff and Peer Mentors. “People treated me with respect and that motivated me,” he says.
In the last year, Ivan’s Youth Support Specialist, Frank, noticed a changed in him. “He wanted to change his life,” Frank says. “He demonstrated that he was serious and he started to set boundaries with his peers who may not have been a positive influence.” Ivan explains, “It’s hard because my friends are my family. But I have to set myself apart and decide I want something more in life.” He visited our onsite Orangewood Resource Center every day to wash his clothes, enjoy a hot meal, print out his resume and find resources.
Frank says, “At one point, Ivan was overwhelmed because he had nothing, but I told him to be patient. Then he got a job offer, was approved to become a Peer Mentor, and got accepted into our Rising Tide transitional housing program.”
Today Ivan has a full-time job at Motive Energy where there is room for growth. He wakes up every day at 3:00 A.M. to be at his job in Corona by 4:00 and gets off at 1:00 P.M. Ivan then heads straight to Orangewood for support and help facilitate the ILP workshops as a Peer Mentor. “I want to give back,” Ivan says. “I know what it’s like to feel that nobody understands them and that they’re alone. I tell them, ‘I was in your shoes. Every day I’m trying to be better and you can too.’”
When describing his life currently, Ivan frequently uses the word “blessed” and says, “Sometimes I wonder what I would do without Orangewood Foundation. This is like my family. Orangewood has given me things I never thought I could have – living a normal, decent human life where I don’t have to just survive.”
Growth. That’s what it means to be an Orangewood mentor, according to Walter “Ace” Hoyt. Ace was paired with Elias, a former foster youth, in the summer of 2012. When Elias, age 19 at the time, asked for a mentor, he had one criterion: he didn’t want an “old guy.” “I wasn’t the young match he was looking for,” laughs 72-year old Ace thinking back on the first time they met.
Ace had recently retired and was looking for something to do. His friend suggested to get involved in the community and suggested Orangewood Foundation as a place to start. “It was perfect. I wanted to give younger people advice and share my life experience,” he says. Ace met Elias and, despite being the “old guy,” they hit it off.
Ace admits being a mentor isn’t always easy. “I’m a traditionalist,” he says. “I thought a goal for someone at Elias’ age should be getting a college degree.” So when Elias expressed his desire to quit college, Ace was taken aback. “We had a heart-to-heart talk and I gave him my opinion on it. But in the end, it was about Elias’ goals, not mine,” says Ace. “I’m here to support him in whatever he wants to do.”
Ace learned Elias had a passion for karate and he ultimately wanted to run his own karate dojo (studio). They worked together and created steps for how Elias could reach his new goal. “I helped him identify the skills he needed to run a dojo,” says Ace. “You need marketing and sales skills to get people in the door, you need management skills to manage and the list goes on.” Elias took online classes, went to workshops and found a mentor in the karate industry with the help of Ace.
Today, Elias is working at a karate dojo and thriving in his environment. “He is a resilient and hardworking young man,” says Ace. “It’s amazing to see how much he grew.” Elias is busy with work, but the pair always finds time to have a meal together.
As for the “old guy,” Ace learned a thing or two. “I learned about patience,” he says. “Taking on a mentee requires a lot of patience. A lasting relationship requires work and time.” Inspired by the youth organizations Ace volunteers at including Orangewood Foundation, he has taken courses in mediation and hopes to become a mediator in family court.
Ace reflects on the past seven years of mentorship, “I’ve grown, because of youth like Elias. I have a passion to work with youth. I’m not just sitting around and thinking about who I’m going to play golf with today.”
If you’re interested in becoming a mentor like Ace, contact our Coordinator of Mentoring Services, Shane Panther, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly graduated from college last month and will start what she calls her “dream job” in the fall. She is well on her way to achieving her goals but she didn’t always see a future for herself.
As far back as elementary school, Kim was changing the diapers of her two younger brothers, bottle feeding them, and putting them to bed. Her family had little money and her mom worked a lot. Her parents had a difficult marriage and her mom left when Kim was in middle school.
Kim’s father wasn’t around much. When he was, he was mentally, physically and verbally abusive to the children. Kim saw no choice but to take on the role of mother and father. She did the laundry, cooked dinner, and signed permission slips.
Kim loved going to school. “It was the only place I could get away from the situation and not think about what was going on at home.”
On Halloween day in high school, Kim was called to the principal’s office and the police were there to take her into protective care. She and her brothers were placed into foster care.
Ultimately, they were placed with one of Kim’s friend’s families who had four children of their own. The parents encouraged her to be a teen and relieved her of her mothering duties. However, with seven children in the house, the family didn’t have money for extras.
After learning about Orangewood Foundation from her social worker, Kim applied for and received an Orangewood grant for cheerleading. Cheerleading helped her feel normal and fit in. “Cheerleading helped me come out of my shell,” she says. She also received funds for drivers training.
In her senior year, Kim wanted to attend college but had no idea how she was going to afford it. Again, Orangewood Foundation was there for her, providing college scholarships. This financial support plus other scholarships allowed her to attend Cal State Fullerton and focus solely on school. In May, Kim graduated from CSUF debt free.
This summer Kim is studying for the CPA exam to become a certified public accountant. An Orangewood Advanced Studies scholarship is covering the fees for her preparation courses. Starting in September, she’ll begin her job as an auditor at Ernst & Young.
Thinking about her past, Kim says, “When I was living with my father, I had no clue what was going to happen in life. I had a brighter future than I’d thought. If not for Orangewood, I would not be the outgoing person I am. I would not be able to overcome my situation and live out my dreams. I can face anything and I’m very excited for what the future holds.”
“I found a home,” Riley says as she smiles widely. The word “home” doesn’t come easy for foster youth like her. It may bring mixed emotions or it may feel completely foreign. For Riley, she was glad to find a home.
Riley grew up in Oregon thinking everything around her was her fault. “I just doubted myself a lot,” she says softly. “I was told I was being too sensitive or I was just exaggerating things. So, I ignored my gut feeling and went along with what was being said.” Riley learned about responsibility at a young age. She took care of her younger siblings, taking them to school and feeding them. One day, Riley listened to her gut and spoke up. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she explains. “I was upset at the adult figures in my life, no one said anything.” Social workers were in and out of the house once she told a counselor at school. It wasn’t until her junior year of high school that Riley was placed in foster care.
Riley was sent from Oregon to Laguna Beach to live with her grandparents. Laguna Beach was “definitely a shock,” Riley recalls. “I felt misplaced. I was already a bubbly girl in Oregon and to be in Orange County, I felt like I didn’t belong.” She felt disconnected from her peers and decided to take online classes and finish high school early. Riley says, “I just really wanted to go back to Oregon. But I needed help to do so.”
Then Orangewood Foundation came into Riley’s life. She met Danielle, a Youth Support Specialist, through a social worker who suggested that Orangewood Foundation could help her. “I could tell right away, this girl had her mind set,” Danielle smiles. “She wanted to focus on moving back to Oregon and that was the ultimate goal.” Danielle and Riley started researching scholarships, grants, and colleges in Oregon. “We met about two times a month for about a year,” Danielle explains. “We had to make sure she had all the necessary resources up there.” They found an Independent Living Program for foster youth and was set to have Riley move back to Oregon.
“People around me, like Danielle, helped me prepare for my move,” Riley shyly smiles. “But my gut was telling me I wanted to stay. I naturally ignored it.” Riley was slowly hearing back from scholarships and colleges. “I wasn’t exactly excited about it,” she says. “I knew something was wrong when I didn’t bother to open the envelopes from colleges.” Riley listened to her gut once again.
Riley timidly asked Danielle, “How would you feel if I told you I wanted to stay?” Danielle beamed as she recalls the questions, “Of course I said, ‘If that’s what you want, I’m totally happy.’” Riley was relieved. “I felt like I made a home here,” says Riley. “If I went to Oregon, there wouldn’t be an Orangewood or Danielle to help me, and that wouldn’t be home.”
Riley now calls Orange County home and she’s currently finishing up her first year at Saddleback College. She hopes to transfer to Stanford or UCLA to study neuroscience. Riley grins and says, “I’m glad I found a home with Orangewood Foundation.”
Courage. It’s the word that comes to mind when Orangewood youth Brandi thinks about Orangewood Foundation. “Orangewood gives you help and more courage than you ever had,” she says. Brandi’s courage has helped her overcome her mental health challenges over the past several years and will help her in this next phase of her life.
Brandi first came to Orangewood Foundation seven years ago as part of our Full Service Partnership program (FSP). FSP is a program of the Orange County Health Care Agency and administered by Orangewood. FSP provides mental health and case management services for current and former foster youth, ages 16-25, who have mental health issues.
Over the years Brandi has had a few case workers at Orangewood Foundation but Program Director Sheree Crosby has been with her through it all. Brandi was just 17 years old when they first met. “At that time she was angry and had an ‘I got this’ attitude,” says Sheree. “But there was something in her that stood out. She was sweet, caring and loyal. She’s one of the most honest people I know, which helps us know where we stand with her.”
One of the biggest areas of support FSP has provided for Brandi is with anger management. Before FSP, Brandi would explode when she was angry. Orangewood FSP staff encouraged her to identify coping skills that would help her avoid hospital stays. But she was doubtful. “The biggest challenge was getting Brandi to believe that the ideas would work,” Sheree says. “I was skeptical,” Brandi admits. “I thought, ‘It will never work.’”
Together, Brandi and the FSP staff created a poster with more than a dozen ideas including taking a walk, listening to music, playing with Play-Doh, journaling, counting backwards, and calling supportive people in her life. As she tried them, Brandi found that they worked. Today, Brandi has the poster hanging on her bedroom wall and it now has over 20 different healthy coping skills listed.
Two years ago, Brandi summoned her courage when Sheree assigned Brandi to a new Orangewood FSP case manager, Garvin Brown. “Brandi has always been hesitant working with male service providers and I wanted to show her that there are positive male support figures she can have in her life. But when I told her that her new case manager would be a male, she started to cry and didn’t want any part of it.” Sheree explained to Brandi that she wouldn’t match her with just anybody. “I thought they would work so well together,” Sheree explains. “So I asked her ‘Do you trust me?” Brandi did.
Garvin and Brandi focused on daily living skills such as grocery shopping on a budget. “Garvin taught me how to go grocery shopping,” she says. “We’d go shopping every two weeks. And he bumps up the music when we drive. That’s cool.”
Today, at the age of 26 Brandi has transitioned out of Orangewood’s FSP into an adult FSP. She takes classes at Coastline College in reading, writing and math. Someday she hopes to be a computer technician.
Sheree has seen Brandi grow into an extraordinarily resilient young woman over the eight years they’ve worked together. “Brandi’s been through a lot of hardship in her 26 years. The fact that she is still here is inspiring,” says Sheree. “I’m so proud of her for opening up, asking for help, and accepting it.”
Brandi is grateful for the support, resources, and direction Orangewood Foundation provided to her. “This program was the best help ever,” she says with a smile.