Pandemic causes shortage of mentors for Central Florida’s foster care, group home system

ORLANDO, Fla. — People who decide to become mentors fill an essential and unique role in the foster care system.

9 Family Connection partner Embrace Families is always looking for volunteers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened that need for so many Central Florida kids.

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When he was medically discharged from the Air Force, Elias Quintana Jr. was looking for new motivation.

He found it as a mentor at Embrace Families, an organization that oversees foster care in three Central Florida counties

“It was that moment, that kind of just reignited that passion for me. ‘OK, I have purpose here,’” Quintana said.

That purpose now plays out in a bond shared with his 14-year-old mentee.

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“It just kind of developed into what it is now, and I just see so much of myself in him,” Quintana said.

Connections like theirs are what the Embrace Families legacy mentor program is all about.

It pairs teens and young adults aged 13-23 with community mentors for friendship, support and guidance.

The organization said mentors are needed now more than ever, especially from communities of color.

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“We need to have more positive influences, positive support for this population,” Quintana said.

Whether it’s two hours a week or 12, the gift of that time can make a significant impact.

The decision was life-changing for Quintana, who a little over a year later, became his mentee’s foster dad, and is now seeking permanent guardianship.

There are about 1,500 kids in foster care across our region. Research shows young adults who have mentors can better overcome obstacles in life, and more than half go to college.