Words: Kiki James
Art: Brenna Fox
Nestled deep in the hidden plaza of an old, bisque building, surrounded by a booming Chinese restaurant and favored graphics shop, lays a center of hope for many afflicted youths in need. A Family for Every Child is a non-profit organization that provides various programs and tools to aid children in need of assistance regarding mentoring, tutoring and even shelter in some cases.
While many views stimulating adolescent education and growth as community service, for Anthonia Ambrusko, it is a duty.
Ambrusko, the Permanency Director at AFFEC, oversees direct mentor programs, family preservation, host home and family finding. She has been involved in community development her entire life. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Ambrusko worked with an organization called Community Coalition, which revolved around economic and social justice. She volunteered most of her junior and senior year of high school. After high school, she fell out of non-profit for a bit as she bounced from job to job while attending college.
However, it did not take Ambrusko long to realize her passion was working with non-profits.
“I wanted to do something that made a difference, as opposed to just making money,” Ambrusko said, “I wanted to go home with the sense that even if I didn’t get everything I wanted to get accomplished that day, I still did a little bit more good in the world.” She added her motivations for AFFEC.
One of the many programs held by AFFEC is the director mentor program, in which a youth or foster care child seeks mentorship by an adult, who are mostly students attending the University of Oregon. Ambrusko conducts interviews with the children to get a better understanding of their personalities to match them with the perfect mentor. The goal is to connect youth with mentors that can offer support and consistency in their lives.
Mentors are required to have 3 references, go through a background check and be able to commit for 18 months.
Direct mentoring is unique in that mentors are matched with mentees only if they are seen as a comparable match. Ambrusko works hard to search for mentors that are compatible with each child.
“We place a heavy amount of emphasis on matching and making good matches that can be long-lasting,” Ambrusko said. She also takes into account the lifestyles, personalities, schedules and how well the mentor will get along with the mentee’s family. Ambrusko wants to create an environment where neither party feels like they are part of a program, but rather, “that they are truly a part of each other’s lives.”
According to Youth Mentor, “Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.” Mentors are needed worldwide, but they are not always readily available.
The main issue regarding the mentoring programs is the absence of male mentors nationwide. Ambrusko is in desperate need of male mentors, as she has a 10:1 ratio of boys in need of a male mentor. Boys typically become socially apparent between the ages 8-11, and those who come to AFFEC for assistance do not usually have a male role model, according to Ambrusko. Most male mentors are referred to AFFEC, while female mentors are more likely to sign up willingly.
Just a 7-minute drive away, lays Ophelia’s Place, a similar non-profit dedicated to girls that “is a prevention-based organization dedicated to helping girls make healthy life choices through empowerment, education and support,” as part of their mission.
Along with AFFEC, Ophelia’s Place offers various programs such as afternoon drop in, tutoring and other skill-building classes and therapy. Unlike AFFEC, there is not 1 on 1 mentoring, but the effects are lasting, according to University of Oregon Family Human Services major and Ophelia’s Place intern Katrina Tabor.
Twice a week, Tabor spent time with girls ages 10 to 18 at drop-in hours where the girls can come hang out in a safe space and environment. She describes her duty during this time as “basically to hang out with them, be a mentor and someone they can look up to and make sure the conversation that is had in the space are appropriate and everyone is treating each other kindly.” Crafts are also an option for drop-in and snacks are provided as well.
Tabor explained that they attempt to “make eating snacks and eating anything normalized so that there’s no weirdness around food,” which is vital, with the fact that roughly 20 million women in America will experience an eating disorder at one point in their lives, according to National Eating Disorders. Ophelia’s Place is special because it allows the girls a safe place to vent and have these important discussions without feeling judged or uncomfortable. Along with afternoon drop-in hours, Tabor co-facilitated a girl empowerment group that was comprised of five school girls that met once a week to talk and once again, create another safe space for these select girls.
Although she was not directly focused on individual mentoring, Tabor said she did see progress in some girls throughout her time at Ophelia’s Place. According to Tabor, she witnessed one girl go from being shy at the beginning, to becoming more comfortable in the space, as she was able to open up in a secure environment. She also noted, “I can also see progress in the way that they interact with other girls. Drop in has helped a lot of girls with their social skills and I think it creates a really comfortable space for them.” Tabor also felt progress in the school groups, with more sensitivity towards other’s feelings and using certain phrases and stereotypes.
“Overall, I think Ophelia’s Place is a really great place for any girl to come and I think it’s awesome. I always see parents come in and say ‘Wow, I really wish I had a place like this when I was a kid’ and I myself have said that too,” said Tabor.
A Family for Every Child and Ophelia’s Place showcase the importance of strong leadership and mentoring that is essential to the development of children’s lives, not only psychologically, but also emotionally, socially and professionally. Through dedication and kindness, youth in Eugene and across the nation will hopefully learn the tools needed for success in careers, relationships and personal growth.