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Volunteers shaping lives of Orlando-area teens in foster care through mentorship

Program pairs teens with mentors in Orange, Osceola, Seminole counties

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – At the paper airplane station inside the Orlando Science Center, 16-year-old Phrankie Radzikowski, with the help of her mentor, Christie DeNave, is figuring out how to make a paper airplane fly. 

"I think we chose the hard one," Radzikowski said to DeNave, who is determined that they will figure it out together. 

That's not all they're figuring out, though. The two have vowed to stick together while Radzikowski navigates her way through her teenage years.

The two were paired through Embrace Families Legacy Mentor Program, an organization that facilitates fosters and adoptions for foster children in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. 

According to the organization's website, the mentor program matches teens and young adults in the foster care system, ages 13-23, with positive role models in their community.

It's a different role than a paid foster parent, therapist or case manager. The mentors are all volunteers. 

"You know when people say, 'Oh, you are like a daughter to me,' and stuff? I'm, like, 'OK, but am I?'" Radzikowski said. "But with (DeNave), it's really like having a second mom. She's supportive of everything that I do."

DeNave has been mentoring Radzikowski for 13 months and says she isn't trying to replace her mother or foster mother. She just wants to be a sounding board -- someone who will listen and guide Radzikowski through difficult teen years. 

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"She has become sort of an extended part of my family," DeNave said. "I only hope that something I do may help her down the road." 

Radzikowski said her mentor has already helped. 

"I take it really personal that she considers me part of her family," Radzikowski said. "I think the relationship I have with Christie is, when I'm 18 and have to move out and stuff, she's still going to be someone I can text." 

The pair is already planning to keep in touch after Radzikowski turns 18 and is out of the system. In fact, they're already planning trips to visit Florida colleges. 

"Just having someone that I know and trust with my issues, or simple things, like you said, boiling an egg -- I don't know how to do that now, so I think it's important to have someone like that," Radzikowski said. 

DeNave said the requirements for the mentor program aren't difficult. Program officials want mentors to contact their mentees at least once a week and spend a total of five hours with them each month. 

Embrace Families is hoping to get 100 more volunteers for the mentor program. If you are interested, click here for more information.


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