Gift Of Love: Mentor Program For Foster Children In College - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/25/04-Commerce, TX

Gift Of Love: Mentor Program For Foster Children In College

College can be a stressful time, especially if a young person doesn't feel they have the support they need. That's especially true for a foster child. Often they're left all alone, trying to find direction in their life. But one East Texas university is making sure they get the help they need to succeed at getting an education. We take a look at how a mentor program gives foster children someone to fall back on.

Usually, a college campus is busy with the hustle and bustle of students, but during holidays and spring break, it's pretty quiet. Ginny Ashwood says, "It's very hard when the campus shuts down and you don't have anywhere to go." Ginny knows that feeling well. In 1994, she was one of the first foster children to attend Texas A & M University at Commerce. "Many of the foster kids, much like myself, had no support group," says Ginny. But that changed when she met Dr. Lavelle Hendricks. He was part of a mentor program on campus. "I think at the time what Ginny was looking for was not to become another statistic within the system," says Dr. Hendricks.

Dr. Hendricks became not only her mentor, but her friend. They formed a close bond, keeping in contact even after graduation. Ginny adds, "I'll always remember him as an integral part of my college career. He always had a smile and uplifting word to say to me to keep me going." Dr. Hendricks says, "Failure is not an option with me. What I see with all students is determination to succeed and anything I can do to be a catalyst to move them forward in that direction that's what I'm looking to do."

"That can help them stay in school," says Linda Clinton, Counseling Center Director on campus. She sees first hand the benefit of mentoring foster children. "It can help them to be happy and productive and successful students and that's what our community and university is all about," says Linda.

Many in the Commerce community have become part of the university's mentor program including Anne and Bob Mills, who have two grown children of their own. "When you leave foster care, you're turned loose on your own," says Bill. Anne adds, "A lot of the kids haven't had breaks in life and if we can assist in giving that society benefits and we benefit."

There was one foster child in particular who became almost like part of the Mills' family. They even attended her graduation and wedding. Bill says, "We helped her quite a bit with her studies that first year. She got her feet on the ground pretty well and as time went on, she needed less and less help academically." Ann goes on to say, "When she got ready to buy a car she'd call and we'd talk about that and she'd call for advice or if she just wanted to get away from the dorm, we'd go to lunch or dinner." Bill says, "Sometimes she would just come over and visit for a while and we'd call and check on her." Anne sums it up by saying, "It was a wonderful experience. She is a lovely young lady."

It's an experience, at least at this East Texas university, giving foster children a place to turn when there seems to be none.

If you're interested in helping a foster child in college through the Texas A & M University mentor program call 903-886-5081.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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