I mentor older boys in the New York City foster care system. These are kids who’ve been in “the system” for a long time and who the system long ago gave up on trying to get them permanent homes or adoption. They usually live in abysmal group homes or with foster families that have no real interest in or connection with them. And they’re all about to “age-out” of the system, which means they’ll soon be on their own which, statistically, means most likely joining the ranks of the homeless.
I’ve been a mentor to 20 year-old Rodrigo (not his real name) for about five years now. Although he’s never asked me for a dime, he rarely has any money, which stands to reason because the group home he lives in regularly imposes financial penalties on him that eliminate his allowance, and though he tries hard, he hasn’t been able to hold a job. He’s a smart, sweet kid with a superficial façade of swagger and hair-trigger anger (that he sometimes doesn’t even know he’s showing), all survival adaptations in a world in which his peers are pretty tough, and the adults, at best, are disinterested and, at worst, duplicitous, dissembling and mean.
He loves animals. His preferred job would be working at a vet. He’s had internships at vets, and stints working in doggy daycare places. And he’s dabbled with the thought of going to school to become a vet tech. But the circumstances supporting that, especially given his impending need to fend for himself as foster care in New York state ends at age 21, don’t yet line up. His love for animals is reflected, though, in his own dog whose needs he puts first through thick and, mainly, thin.
Although he recently received several hundred dollars as a clothing allowance, I’ve continued to see him in the same clothes. He was evasive when I asked him where money went, which I assumed meant he spent it on some kind of show-off partying for his friends. Then, one day, as I often did, I asked him if he had enough dog food and, if not, whether I could give him a few bucks to buy some. Smiling shyly, he said that wouldn’t be necessary. My first thought was that something had happened to his dog. That she’d been taken away or had gotten injured or sick or even died. But he seemed happy, not upset. Then he told me why. Turns out he’d used the several hundred he’d gotten to buy clothing to buy a year of dog food, delivered monthly, from www.chewy.com. She was his responsibility, and he wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of taking care of his dog.