A few years ago, I volunteered at a mentoring program in Indio, called "Hermanas Intimas", (Intimate Sisters). After completing the screening process, because of my experience as a therapist and teacher, they gave me "their most challenging" mentee, a then 12 year old girl named Magnolia. She was in 7th grade at the time. There were about 20 girls and 20 mentors. I was the only non-Hispanic mentor.
Magnolia was the youngest girl of seven siblings. Her mother had been killed in a car accident when she was ten. Her dad worked two jobs as a bus boy, and was single parent to a handful of teens, all of whom had problems staying in school, or involvement with drugs, gangs, breaking the law, or teen pregnancies. They wanted to "save" Magnolia from repeating the mistakes of her older siblings.
The program was clear that we were to invest time, not money in our mentors. I saw Magnolia weekly, or we spoke on the phone. We went to the library, we went swimming, we baked cookies, we scrapbooked, we went to free places in the community, or out for ice cream or a burger. We read books, worked on homework, struggled with algebra, writing and geography. I went to school meetings with her dad, and got to know her principal and counselor. Magnolia had a temper that got her in trouble. She got in fights, but managed to stay away from drugs and sex...THAT year. She was a little "spitfire"... all 4' 10" of her.
The mentor program honored me at a luncheon as "Mentor of the Year". They lost funding, so they no longer monitored the program, but Magnolia and I continued our almost weekly get-togethers. Eighth grade was a challenge. She moved to an alternative school with fewer students in each class. She smoked pot. She asked lots of questions about sex. She hated school, and liked boys. She was caught with drugs. Her dad sent her to a tough love rehab program in Mexico for 6 months. She was "scared straight" by the staff there, and returned home drug-free.
Magnolia had a pregnancy scare, and wanted to run away from home. I made at least 25 phone calls to local agencies to find her a safe place to go. I finally found "Safe House" in Riverside that had space, and would take her, but it was an hour away. For personal liability reasons, I would not transport her, so I tried to get the local police department to help. They wouldn't take her, but they would buy her a bus ticket, knowing the staff would be there to receive her at the other end. She was allowed to bring a few clothes, and all personal items would be provided. She could have $10 for candy bars, and stamped envelopes to write letters, and a phone card to call me once a day. I finally got her to agree to meet me at the bus station (two blocks from her house). All was going well, until the police car drove up to give me the bus ticket. She got scared, and ran, as her boyfriend had told her to do in the first place. I didn't see or hear from Magnolia again for almost 2 years.
At age 16, Magnolia was pregnant, away from her family, alone much of the time, and not going to school. She was living with the baby's father, out in the middle of the hot desert, with few resources, little money, and soon, a new baby. She herself was still a naive child with few skills. She called me after the baby was born. I had created some distance, and wasn't getting sucked back into the same relationship we once had, but I did listen, and give her some advice. I had been hurt and angry after she took off. I set new boundaries on our relationship, but did want Magnolia to have someone she could talk to when she needed it. She began to call every couple of months when she was especially stressed, or had access to a phone. Our contact was, at best, sporadic.
In January, Magnolia called with a new big problem. Her boyfriend had been violent, drunk, and hit her. She called the police and he was charged with domestic violence. His family was pressuring her to drop the charges, and say it hadn't happened. He might be deported. After a few long conversations, I was able to help her make the right decision. It would happen again, and she could lose her child, as in California, if there is a minor in the home, Child Protective Services will remove a child from a home if there is violence, and the MOTHER (victim) can be charged with "failure to protect". Magnolia was strong, and refused to drop the charges. After the court hearing, her abusive partner was deported to Mexico, she moved home to live with her dad and her son. She went back to school and worked very hard to finish her high school requirements.
Shortly after we returned from Italy, Magnolia called to invite me to her Continuation High School graduation. The school is aptly called, "La Familia". I attended the ceremony on June 11, and met Magnolia's 17 month old son. Her sisters were all there with their babies. Her dad has 11 grandchildren. The graduation was unlike any I have ever seen. There were 60 graduates, many with babies in attendance. Some walked up to receive their diplomas with an infant in arms. I have never seen so many kids under 4 in one place in my life. There were over 100 toddlers in the room.
I am very proud of Magnolia's courage and perserverance. She has had many challenges and faced difficult situations. She has learned coping skills. She will be attending junior college in the fall. She will call me when she needs to talk.