Michiana Family Center seeks mentors for foster teens

MICHIANA — A regional organization is looking to provide one-on-one support to foster teens across the Michiana region.

Serving Edwardsburg, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Niles, Granger, Mishawaka, South Bend and Elkhart, Michiana Family Center’s mission is to collaborate with the community to provide wrap-around and uplifting support for families and children in foster care in Michiana.

The organization is currently seeking volunteers for its newly launched Michiana Mentors program, which aims to provide foster teens with an adult mentor to invest in them and provide support.

“We know, especially with the pandemic and everything that is going on, kids need one-on-one relationships,” said Aisling Solarek, CEO of Michiana Family Center. “That is really our focus for the start of 2021.”

The organization got its start in 2015, working through the Community Church of Edwardsburg. The organization volunteered with the Edwardsburg Community Clothes Closet, the Cass County Department of Health and Human Services Christmas party, in addition to working with respite care, and foster parent support and training groups.

In 2019, Michiana Family Center officially launched as a nonprofit group. Since then, representatives with the nonprofit have been working to provide gifts to foster families, deepen partnerships with local agencies to provide gifts and education to area youth and expand its services to provide clothes, diapers, gift cards and babysitting to foster families.

Now, with the Michiana Mentors program, Solarek hopes to provide additional support to teens and families across the region.

“Our role in the teen’s life is encouragement and to say, ‘we are here to do what you want to do,’” she said. “We get to say, ‘what are you interested in? Let’s go do that. We are here to support you. We are here to encourage you.’ We are not the doctor, not the therapist, not the counselor. We just get to come in and be a caring adult.”

According to research compiled by the Michiana Family Center, there are around 1,300 children in foster care in Michiana. Solarek said these children face substantial instability in their home lives, and the Michiana Mentors program seeks to provide stability and support to the teens it serves. So far, the organization has begun training 20 mentors, who will then be paired with mentees. By the end of the year, Solarek hopes to have 100 area youth in foster care paired with a mentor.

A foster parent herself, Solarek said she understands the importance of additional supports not only for foster children but everyone involved in the foster care process.

“We want to both encourage mentors to sign up for the program, but also to let foster parents know that this is a great resource for their kids,” Solarek said. “It not only encourages the teen, but it encourages the whole family to have an extra positive person in their life.”

Solarek said she would encourage area adults in the area to sign up to be a mentor for the program via the organization’s website, michianafamilycenter.org.

“We may not be able to cure COVID, but we can do something positive in the community,” she said. “For the mentor, you just get to be an encouragement for these kids. You get to be the fun aunt or uncle role, and it’s a role these kids are missing.”

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