Former foster youth Carma Lacy knows firsthand how transformative an adult role model can be. Lacy’s time with Franklin County Children Services connected her to her lifelong mentor Dr. Iris Cooper, whom she met through the agency’s Malaika mentoring program back when she was just 17. A source of confidence and encouragement, Iris has been an unwavering support in Lacy’s life for more than 20 years now and is “like a mom, best friend or girlfriend,” depending upon the situation, Lacy says.
Youth involved in the child welfare system have a critical need for committed mentors, says Lacy, who serves as program administrator at the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio. According to Lacy, both her mom and dad were in foster care as children and eventually became teen parents without any guidance or support. A mentor might have altered their trajectory and broken the child welfare cycle in her family, Lacy says. For a kid in foster care who has faced serious adversity, having a devoted mentor to count on can make all the difference in creating a better outcome. “If you change the life of this kid, you change the life of future generations,” Lacy says.
In her role at the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio, one of FCCS’s community partners, Lacy finds tremendous purpose in nurturing youth who have “all kinds of barriers.” Whether the youth are homeless, in foster care, or have dropped out of school, “I get to be part of the solution,” Lacy says.
Lacy’s firsthand experience in foster care helps her connect to children who have lived through extreme poverty, difficult family circumstances and other challenges. “The kids trust me,” she says. “I know exactly who these children are and their stories.”
A mentor to many, Lacy frequently gives her contact information to youth she meets in case they find themselves needing support. “I tell them to ‘call me and we’ll figure it out,’” Lacy says. She was recently there for a 17-year-old girl for whom she provided a little tough love and positive direction. “I need her to know why she matters,” Lacy says.