Grossmont College student Tina Snow Thornton is changing the world one foster youth at a time.
Thornton has spent the past six years as a mentor to two foster siblings, one now 20 and the other who will be 18 in June. Not only has she devoted in excess of 2,200 hours to the San Diego County Foster Youth Mentor Program, during that time, Thornton – through Step Up Foster Youth Ministry at The Rock Church in Point Loma – also has helped guide and support more than 170 other adults who also have become mentors. That’s roughly one-third of the total number of people taking part in the county’s Foster Youth Mentor Program.
Her selfless efforts were recognized in April when the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency recognized Thornton with the Foster Youth Mentor Program Volunteer of the Year Award.
“Tina brings a passion to what she is doing,” said Ross Ramos, a volunteer coordinator with the Foster Youth Mentor Program. “She is our most valuable volunteer partner.”
Thornton’s faith and background fuel her passion.
“My parents were always finding a way to serve their community, to work with their church, to do whatever they could to help others,” said Thornton, who added that knowing a couple of foster children while she was growing up sparked her interest in working with foster youth.
“These kids are moving from house to house, moving in with strangers, they don’t know what school they’ll be attending tomorrow or where they’re going to be,” Thornton said. “These kids are facing the sort of challenges nobody should have to face.”
Thornton is able to devote up to 10 hours a week or more with the young men she mentors even though she is immersed in her studies at Grossmont College. She will earn a certificate this June through the rigorous 20-week, Office Professional Training Program, with a specialization in accounting.
“It’s really a well-developed program,” said Thornton, who is aiming to redefine her career as an accountant. “Everyone on the faculty is personally invested in seeing you succeed.”
Mary Leslie, a professor in the Office Professional Training Program, said Thornton’s volunteer spirit extends to Grossmont College. “She’s always eager to lend a hand wherever it’s needed,” Leslie said, noting Thornton’s myriad efforts include helping with an April 30 Clothing Boutique that provides gently used professional outfits for students in the program to wear in interviews or on the job. “She deserves all the recognition in the world for what she does.”
Thornton said she had undergone the training to become a foster parent – and still plans someday on becoming one – but opted against it at the time. “I’m a single woman, I was working crazy hours. It just wouldn’t work.”
When she heard about the Foster Youth Mentor Program, however, she was in.
The younger brother she mentors told KFMB television that Thornton was a godsend when she came into his life.
“I just wanted to have someone that I could relate to, just talk to about how I feel, to understand where I'm coming from and it was a perfect match,” the youth identified as Daniel, told the news station. “Back then, I needed more of a mom figure than a dad.”
Thornton said the biggest challenge for most mentors is building trust with their mentees. “They have been through a lot of trauma,” she said. “You start building that trust just by showing up.”
Mentors do far more than just show up, however. They can spend an entire Saturday or Sunday with a youth, doing everything from going to a street fair or for a hike to providing career guidance and discussing what healthy relationships look like.
Said Thornton: “It’s an incredible feeling to know that you’ve played a role in helping a person re-establish a foundation.”