By Brandy Hernandez, 16, Hawthorne Academy
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Brandy says that every teen should have a mentor because he or she is another person you can talk to and hang out with.

When I first moved into my group home, one of the girls I lived with had a lady who took her out once a week. She told me it was her mentor. I asked, “What’s a mentor?” She said, “It’s someone who you talk to, hang out with and who takes you places.” I wished I could have one, too.

I wanted a mentor because I didn’t have anybody at home. I didn’t want to hang out with the staff at my group home. They are just here to do their jobs, which is to watch us. They’re like baby-sitters. I was cool with the other girls but I don’t talk to them about personal stuff. I just say “hi” and “bye.” And my mom had left for Hawaii with my sister and brother.

I kept bugging Ms. Francis, one of the staff people at my foster care agency, for a mentor. I had to wait a month until one was available. One day Ms. Francis told me, “I think I have one for you. She likes going to the movies and plays.” I thought we’d just talk for a few hours in my room and then she’d leave or we’d go to the park or out to eat. But my mentor Emily has been more than what I expected. She’s shown me around Los Angeles and done so many special things for me. She’s given me good advice and we’ve had really good talks. When I’m with her, I don’t think about what my family is doing without me. She takes my mind off all my problems.

The first time we met we went into my room and introduced ourselves. She was smiling and gave me a hug. I liked her happy personality. We listened to some CDs she brought. We liked a lot of the same music, like The Killers and alternative rock bands like Bush and Nirvana. The next time I saw her we really talked. I told her I couldn’t live with my mom anymore because we were always fighting and that’s why I had moved into a group home. I said that my mom used to hit me and she would cuss at me. I felt really comfortable talking to Emily because she told me about her family, too. I liked that she was open even though she had just met me.

Illustration by Adonia Tan, 17, Walnut HS

I started spending time with Emily every Sunday. She’s a talent manager and we’d see movies with the actors she works for, like Jean Reno from the Da Vinci Code. We like the same movies except she doesn’t like gore. She knew I liked Johnny Depp so she took me to see Pirates of the Caribbean.

We do something new almost every week

I was happy to get out of the group home. It gets on my nerves living with five girls who have different attitudes, which can cause arguments and fights.

When my group home plans outings, they suck. They’re the same boring outings every weekend, either skating, bowling or the movies. I’ve done a lot of new things with Emily. She’s taken me to the Grove shopping center, the Central Library in downtown and to my first real play at a big theater, the kind of things you do with your family. That’s one of the extra special things about her. She wants to show me things I haven’t done before.

When I was on restriction and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere for a week, she brought over a brainteaser game and we played it. When I could go out with her again, she took me to Six Flags. I was so excited because it was my first time there. The best part was that we had Flash Passes so we could go to the front of the lines. One ride didn’t allow the Flash Pass so we had to wait two hours. We laughed and joked about how one of her clients was acting crazy, saying to her, “I’m better than you. I can be a famous actor.”

When she brought me home I said, “Thank you very, very much,” and gave her a big hug. I told her it was one of the best times I’d had. I hardly ever got to hang out alone with my mom because there was always a sibling tagging along. It made me feel special, someone dedicating their day to me. 

After I had known Emily for five months, I felt comfortable turning to her for advice. I told her I didn’t like a lady who worked in my group home’s office. I said that she always had an attitude with me so I chose not to talk to her, and when I had to talk to her I wanted to curse her out. Emily said, “There might be people you don’t like at a job but you can’t curse them out.” She said, “First, you have to respect her because she’s an adult. Second, you have to pull her aside and tell her. You have to try to resolve the conflict.” One day I didn’t argue with the lady and talked to her more nicely when she told me something. Now we’re OK with each other.

Around the same time I started getting frustrated with my group home. When I returned from visiting my mom in Hawaii for spring break, they had moved me to one of the other group homes. I was mad because they moved all my stuff without telling me. The staff was getting on my nerves, too. They wouldn’t be respectful, like they wouldn’t knock on my door before they entered. I told Emily I was mad. That helped because sometimes I let my anger build up and then one day I let it loose, yelling and screaming. By talking to Emily, I didn’t blow up as big as I would have otherwise.

It’s hard for me to talk to my mom like that because she doesn’t listen to or understand me. But I always feel like Emily is listening and she understands. She never gives me a negative response, like saying “So” or “OK, whatever.”

She listens to what I’m going through

Want a mentor?

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and the Inland Empire has mentors for boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 16. You can get more information at (800) 207-7567 or A Place Called Home has mentoring programs for middle school and high school students who live in the South Central and downtown areas. Contact them at (323) 232-7653 or

One time Emily said she couldn’t relate because she didn’t know anything about the system. She said it seems hard and that she wished I lived with my mom and we could get along. I’d heard that before. Everyone I’d met in foster care, like the staff at my group home and social workers, said they wish I could get along with my mom. It doesn’t mean anything coming from them because they say things like that to everybody. It meant more coming from her because I knew she meant it.

When I visited my mom last summer in Hawaii, my mom and I kept arguing. It was just like old times. I was crying a lot. When I got back to Los Angeles, I told Emily that everything went bad and I had to come back early. I told her I never wanted to go back. She said, “I’m sorry.” After I told Emily, as well as my teacher and my school counselor, I wasn’t as mad. When I’m around one of them, they make me forget that I’m in a group home. I feel happy to be alive. It’s like the feeling you’d get if you won a million dollars. They’re my million dollars.

But most of the time it isn’t serious with Emily. We just try to have fun. She knows I like to read, so in November Emily suggested starting a book club. We went to Barnes and Noble and I picked out a fantasy book. It had 500 pages and I finished it in four days. For the second book, she called me to say she’d just started and couldn’t stop reading it.

She’s so nice to me. For my 16th birthday she gave me a vampire book, a CD and $80. I opened the card and all this money popped out. I said, “That’s too much money, Emily.” She said, “No it’s not.” I was so happy. I spent the money on clothes because my group home doesn’t give us enough money for clothing and my family doesn’t support me either.

It’s fun doing different activities with Emily, but that’s not what it’s all about. I asked for a mentor because I wanted someone to talk to. That’s the real reason I enjoy Emily’s company and hanging out with her. I hope she’s my mentor until I’m 18. After that we can be friends.