Friendship Goals: Building Bridges Among Families
The Family Mentor program at SWB Baltimore matches newcomer families to Baltimore residents who can ease the transition, making the family feel welcome and helping to explain paperwork, public transportation, American customs, city systems, and more. For many newcomer youth in our programs, they are the first in their family to learn English; they are often called upon to help their families understand and navigate their new surroundings. The SWB Family Mentor recognizes that holistically supporting our youth participants means supporting their families during a time when so much is new, unfamiliar, and difficult to maneuver. This blog comes from Traci Archibald, one of our Family Mentors in Baltimore matched to Abel, whose family comes from Eritrea.
“Mom, he is from Africa too!” These were the words my 11 year old son, adopted at age 8 from Ethiopia, excitedly shared with me at the end of a one day soccer tournament where he first met Abel about a year ago. The two boys had their arms around each other and then raced off to play on the sidelines together. Abel was on the SWB team, while my son was playing for his travel team and they bonded over their common birth continent. They laughed and shared stories over lunch and then I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to Abel, not wanting their instant connection to be lost.
Fast forward to nine months later and not having heard from Abel, the piece of paper with my phone number, we learned later had been lost in the summer chaos at the pool. I attended a SWB volunteer information session and learned about the Family Mentoring Program. After the session I showed Stephanie, our coordinator a picture of my son and Abel smiling together from that soccer tournament. She shared that Abel did not have a mentor currently and said she would look into whether I could be matched with Abel and his family. Three weeks later, after going through a background check and orientation, my son and I visited Abel and his family at their home. Abel remembered my son and I immediately and the two boys reconnected as if no time had passed.
It’s hard to believe that I have been Abel’s family mentor for only six weeks. In that time, my son and I have developed a strong connection with Abel, his parents and two sisters. We have done homework, played board games, gone to the zoo, and of course played a lot of soccer! My son and Abel have both benefited from sharing their experiences around the challenges of being a newcomer, such as learning a new language, culture and schoolwork. It has been amazing to share in the cultural traditions of Abel’s family, including eating comfort foods that remind my son of his childhood and my favorite, the traditional coffee ceremony. Also in this short time, we have experienced the joy of welcoming a new baby sister into Abel’s family! I work in healthcare and was happy to use my knowledge to help Abel’s family navigate the healthcare system, and transition home safely.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to become a family mentor through SWB. Our families are now connected in ways that I hadn’t imagined. We continue to learn from each other with every visit, sharing our cultures and experiences. I look forward to many more lasting memories with Abel’s family in the future.
Learn more about volunteer opportunities in Baltimore here.