Three years ago, two women met randomly at The RightWay Foundation, an organization which provides transition age foster youth (TAY) employment and mental health services. One was The RightWay Foundation’s Director of Programs and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Andraya Slater. The other was a former foster youth, Jasmine Morgan, unsure of which path to take in life. When their paths first crossed, both were unsure where to start. Yet over time, their mentor-mentee relationship blossomed into an unlikely friendship. Today, the two remain close and give each other unconditional support and share invaluable life lessons. In their own words, Andraya and Jasmine share their story of how one strong mentor turned around the life of a struggling foster youth.
What brought you both to The RightWay Foundation and how did you meet?
Andraya: After working with TAY for many years and seeing first-hand how this population was being overlooked, I knew I wanted to get involved again. So when Franco Vega, the Executive Director at RightWay, asked me to come on board his team, I just couldn’t say “no.” Franco has always had a passion for working with disconnected youth, and a willingness to challenge the status quo in order to create more opportunities for TAY. I joined his team in 2015 and after a couple weeks, I met Jasmine Morgan. She would come in to use the computer lab and meet with our therapist on staff.
Jasmine: That’s right. A former co-worker told me that The RightWay Foundation was a good place and to check them out. At first, I was very standoffish because the last organization that was supposed to help me ended up using my story to raise money and didn’t help me find a job or housing. Coming to RightWay, I was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to learn more about RightWay’s workforce classes and how to dress-for-success. After a couple weeks, I noticed Andraya and thought maybe she could help me. I felt like I could really talk to her. She was really chill and down-to-earth. So I asked if we could start meeting regularly.
Andraya: Jasmine and I began having casual conversations in my office about things like her career and educational goals. Then one day, she asked me if we could meet regularly to “talk about life.” That’s when I learned more about her past experiences in foster care, and how much she had grown from it.
How has your relationship grown over the past couple years?
Andraya: Jasmine and I have developed a relationship beyond what I ever could have expected. I have approached my relationship with Jasmine as I do other significant relationships in my life. Of course, she and I talk about the challenges she faces, but we also talk about other things she is passionate about that are equally as important to her. Our relationship isn’t confined to Monday through Friday and just 9 to 5. We don’t have parameters on the amount of time we talk. We talk while I’m at work, at the end of my work day, and sometimes on weekends. If she needs something after work, I’m there to guide her. My support for Jasmine doesn’t end when I leave work for the day. It’s important to remember that Jasmine is doing all the work; I’m merely here to encourage and support her along the way.
Jasmine: Our relationship goes both ways. She says I help her with insight into my age (I’m 25 years old) and she thinks I’m funny. I find humor in odd things, like the time a former gangbanger turned biochemist shared that he went from selling drugs to “making” them, as a scientist. Andraya thought that was funny too. I really just try to be genuine and myself. We have a great friendship.
Why do you think it’s important for foster youth to have mentors?
Andraya: I think when young people have a network of supportive, encouraging individuals, it makes it easier for them to work through any challenges and accomplish their goals. The RightWay Foundation provides former foster youth with employment opportunities and a supervisor who will invest time in mentoring them. Our ultimate goal is giving young people self-sufficiency and mental wellness. I would encourage small businesses, large corporations and nonprofits to do something similar.
Jasmine: I think that youth having mentors and mentorship programs–like at RightWay–gives them confidence, skills, workforce training, etc. If youth get involved with a good art program, they can express what they went through in foster care. The RightWay Foundation offers services like job readiness training, skills development and conflict resolution. For young people, like me, looking for resources and support, RightWay gives them financial assistance for state-issued IDs, social security cards, haircuts and interview clothes so they don’t have to worry about those costs.
How has mentoring ultimately helped both of you?
Andraya: Mentoring has helped me become a better therapist. I feel that I should approach my therapeutic relationships as I do my mentoring relationships. I also believe that this approach I’ve taken with Jasmine is really empowering. I’ve needed others to support me through my journey; I don’t think Jasmine is any different.
Jasmine: I’ve changed so much since starting therapy at RightWay and having Andraya as my mentor. I’ve learned that it is possible to make it. Andraya is big on my team of supporters. I’ve shared things with Andraya that I’ve never shared with anyone. I shared with her my life story and having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from being in foster care. I told her I was placed in foster care three different times in my life–first at five, then at eight, then again for a final time at 16. I told Andraya about losing my mom–my best friend–and that I still miss her every day. She has seen me through it all. Through her mentoring and encouragement, I’ve made some cool friends along the way. I’ve learned to manage and overcome my PTSD in other ways.
One way was getting a puppy. I felt like I needed to take care of something, because I tend to isolate myself from others. Willa Marie gives me healthy, unconditional love and forces me to get out of the house and go for walks. The fresh air and vitamin D is good for combatting my depression. If I cry for some reason, she will jump up on my lap and comfort me immediately. She distracts me from my pain and helps with my PTSD. Now, I’m not as guarded and defensive.
Having Andraya as a mentor has helped shaped me into the person I am today. As an activist on behalf of the foster youth, I’ve helped change policies like Assembly Bill 12 (AB12), which allows foster youth to remain in extended foster care until the age of 21. I regularly speak at elementary, middle and high schools and universities to transition age college students. I’ve spoken at the University of Southern California (USC) to raise awareness about foster care. I’ve also worked with the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) to help pass Measure H earlier this year to end homelessness among TAY in Los Angeles County. In addition to my activism, I recently found a job through The RightWay Foundation’s job board at EveryTable, a restaurant that brings healthy food to underserved communities lacking access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables.