May 04, 2023

Teaching Youth to Say Goodbye

By Rachel Cardwell, Executive Director

When I talk about working with youth for 12+ years - no matter what - the first question that always gets asked is “how do you get someone to stay and be a mentor for that long?” Even before the Great Resignation this question was raised over and over. It’s a solid question, and the truth is we don’t. No employment law exists that would allow it, for one, but the commitment is still an important promise. Our organization will always have a trained, professional mentor for each of the youth we enroll. No matter what.

A critical part of that promise is supporting our youth through the inevitable transition from one Friend to the next. We prepare them for, and walk with them through, the process of saying goodbye.

This past week I joined one of our youth on her last outing with her Friend. Riley* spent most of the afternoon talking a mile a minute, verbally illustrating her entire family tree, taking short pauses to eat bites of her frozen yogurt and apply zombie make up to my face. We talked about her favorite things to do with her Friend (rock climbing at Bend Rock Gym and eating tacos at Taco Bell), and I made mental notes to take Riley to all the places she listed in the weeks ahead. I get to be the bridge for Riley between this Friend and the next, and I want every minute I spend with her to remind her of all the fun they had. Those good memories are hers forever.

We found our way to Reptile Zone and I watched Riley work up the courage to hold a snake. First a little one, then a little bigger. She was nervous but had learned to break her fear down into manageable steps and work toward the goal. She beamed and squealed when the bigger snake wrapped its tail around her wrist. Her Friend and I offered praise and excitement that she had conquered her fear. What a special moment that was for the three of us.

When we brought Riley home we spent some time chatting with her family. I gave them my number and confirmed they had added my name to the list for school pick up. I wished them well, told Riley I’d see her next week, and left them all so Riley and her Friend could say goodbye.

There were tears, hugs, grief, and assurances. Riley and her Friend both knew the moment was coming but that didn’t make it any easier. Goodbyes are hard, especially for this sweet child who had trust and love for her Friend. We agreed to write letters, to share stories, and keep our fingers crossed that this wasn’t goodbye forever. And through their tears I got to witness the core of our mission: a relationship between a child and their Friend can be the most impactful relationship in that child’s life. They are a force for good.

I went home that day incredibly grateful. Our program will be a part of Riley’s life for the next decade. There will undoubtedly be more tears and more goodbyes. But what Riley hopefully learned is that she will always have a Friend. No matter what.

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