A World of Wonder
One common question our agency receives is about the options available for people who may not be ready to become Resource (Foster) Parents, but who want to support youth in foster care. We recognize that not everyone who can adopt or become a Resource Parent is ready. At Stanford Sierra Youth & Families, we often have Resource Families reveal that they thought about becoming a Resource Family for multiple years before finally deciding to start the process. For those individuals that are not yet ready to become a Resource Parent, there are alternate options for supporting youth in foster care, specifically, through our Wonder Mentoring program.
The Wonder program was created in 2003 by Diane Knorr, who saw the need for a mentorship program after speaking with a Resource Parent about their experience with a 10-year-old in their care. The foster child had never tasted fresh cherries, visited a restaurant with waitresses and a menu, and had never been to a river or skipped a rock. Children in foster care have a high probability of being placed in multiple homes before finding permanency, if ever. This instability is oftentimes the reason children miss out on small everyday experiences.
The Wonder program makes small moments like these possible. The program works by matching youth in foster care (Explorers) with one-on-one caring adults (Guides) who are committed to encouraging, engaging, and enriching their lives. With a focus on fun, each mentor guides their youth through a year-long journey filled with excursions in music, the arts, sports, nature, volunteer services, and dining out. In many cases, these events are the first time the child experiences adventure, excitement, and self-discovery.
The Wonder program has a positive impact on both the Guides and Explorers. The experiences shared within the program are a testament to the positivity that having one consistent person can mean in the life of a child in foster care. For example, an Explorer in the program Juan*, had been living in and out of foster care, and one of the few stable things in his life was his Guide, Jackson, who had been with him for three years. Jackson introduced Juan to a program at the local library in which he had the opportunity to read to service dogs. The dogs are calmed by the steady voice of young people and the program was a benefit to both the dogs and the youth reading to them.
Sadly, Juan’s foster family faced their own challenge when their dog, Ellie, became terminally ill. Even through his own sadness, Juan managed to understand that Ellie was in pain and that letting her go peacefully was the right thing to do. The next morning, Juan’s foster mom discovered that he had been up all night reading to Ellie. When Jackson learned of this, he was overcome with emotion, “That a child who has been through so much has developed such a deep capacity for love and kindness brings tears to my eyes. I’m so grateful to be a part of Juan’s journey.”
Stories like these demonstrate the impact a Guide can have on the life of an Explorer. The bonds of friendship created through Wonder are something not everyone is fortunate enough to experience. However, if you are fortunate enough to be a Guide you will find that there is always someone from the Wonder team ready to support.
Due to COVID-19, the Wonder program moved to online virtual platforms. This was an immense adjustment because Wonder is a program built from in-person outings between Guides and Explorers. However, each Guide quickly found creative ways to continue to safely engage with their Explorers. Some Guides have formed book clubs and consistently call each other to talk about what they are reading. Other matches connected by playing games virtually and teaching their Explorers how to play games like Chess. Many Guides have mailed gifts and letters, and for many Explorers it was the first time they received a handwritten letter or something personal through the mail. Our Guides believe that even though they cannot physically be in the same place together, their relationships and ability to share new experiences must continue – demonstrating just how WONDERful this program really is.
If you are looking to make an impact on the life of a child in foster care, consider becoming a mentor through the Wonder program. To see if Wonder is right for you, please contact Julie Gustafson, Wonder Program Specialist, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (916) 217-8745.
Written by Jorge Cruz, Outreach Coordinator
*The name of the youth has been changed to protect the confidentiality of their identity