How Friends helped Gabriela feel like she belonged.
Trust does not come easily to Gabriela.* It was something that her mentor, Lauren, would have to earn. “Gabriela didn’t talk to me for about a year,” said Lauren. Pushing through the awkward silences, Lauren would continue to meet Gabriela regularly, picking her up from school every week, helping with homework and meeting her friends. “I often wondered whether or not I was a good fit,” said Lauren. “But then after a year, she opened up.” Lauren learned that Gabriela had conditioned herself to not get attached. Reflecting on their first year together, Gabriela had shared with Lauren, “I just want you to know that when I got you as a mentor, I didn't know if you would stay because people in my life often leave."
Today, Lauren is Gabriela’s best friend. Lauren said the two talk about everything and anything in a 5th grader’s life—“homework, movies and TV, music and boys.” Before opening up to Lauren, Gabriela had struggled socially and emotionally because she didn’t feel like anyone would listen; or worse, they would listen and soon abandon her.
Since learning to trust Lauren, Gabriela has been able to also form positive relationships with adults whom she trusts. Gabriela knows that her dad, her teacher and Lauren are there for good.
Everyone knows her name,” said Lauren. “She feels a real sense of belonging with Friends, and I think this community has helped her build a level of confidence that will support her for the rest of her life.
Lauren goes to Gabriela’s school once a week and frequently joins her
for visits with her math teacher in which she receives additional
instruction. Gabriela is from a Spanish-speaking home and entered
kindergarten still learning English. Today, she is reading at grade
level, and literature is her favorite subject.
Gabriela loves the Friends community. During their outings, Lauren gives her the option of choosing where they go, and Gabriela always asks to go to our Rockwood facility. When they arrive, Gabriela is greeted by everyone—youth, Friends and program managers. Everyone knows her name,” said Lauren. “She feels a real sense of belonging with Friends, and I think this community has helped her build a level of confidence that will support her for the rest of her life.
*Youth's name changed to protect their identity. Photos shown are not of the youth in the story.