Lakewood resident Stephen Bullard, 52, knows just how much his life has changed so quickly after he took on the responsibility of looking after two young men who really needed him. More than two years ago, the music instructor welcomed Marcus into his home. Soon after that, Miguel joined their family. Both Marcus and Miguel, clients of the California Mentor Family Home Agency (FHA), were matched with Bullard, who commits to mentor the young men in a safe family environment. (Their last names are being withheld to comply with privacy concerns.)
California Mentor’s program certifies family homes and seeks individuals who are willing to provide in-home care for adults 18 and older who have developmental disabilities, according to its program director, Melissa Maynes. The program, located in Long Beach, is part of a nationwide for-profit agency called The Mentor Networks.
It might be challenging to find the right person who could commit to take individuals home and to integrate them into his or her own family. When he first considered working with the agency, Bullard didn’t know that the level of responsibility would literally be that close to home.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that is a really good opportunity to have a greater impact on someone’s life,’” Bullard said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Bullard had previously worked in a group home for kids ages 8 to 18. He said he saw that this was now an opportunity to affect the lives of adults on a very personal level. Marcus is in his mid 20s. Miguel is in his early 30s.
Bullard will tell you about the time he joined Marcus on his very first airplane ride when Bullard planned a visit to Florida to see relatives and enjoy Disney World. He also remembers the first time he brought Miguel to see his first professional soccer game at the Home Depot Center in the city of Carson. It was one of soccer superstar David Beckham’s final games as a team member of the LA Galaxy. Bullard describes how Miguel was excited to see the number of fans who filled the stadium. He’ll talk like a proud father when he will tell you that Marcus plays the drums and that Marcus helped start an intramural basketball league with others who loved the sport.
Maynes emphasizes that it is important for participants and their mentors to have community ties but it’s important to integrate clients into mentors’ families.
“I think the greatest reward of all is being able to know that you are actually providing a service for someone and bringing someone into a family environment which they may have never had,” Maynes said in a telephone interview.
According to Maynes, clients are exclusively referred to her agency by Harbor Regional Center, which is a private, nonprofit organization that contracts with the State of California. The Harbor Regional Center provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Maynes explained that many of the adults have been diagnosed with intellectual disabilities or other disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.
Mentors are screened by the agency and must go through a certification process. Maynes described how many of the mentors are “empty nesters,” older adults whose own children have left home. To be a mentor, qualified candidates must be at least 25 years old, be financially stable, have community ties, and exhibit strong communication and advocacy skills. Mentors who are in the program are competitively compensated, according to Maynes. They receive a daily stipend that covers housing, food, utilities and travel expenses for medical appointments.
There are staff members who regularly visit the homes, and mentors must attend continuing-education classes. Maynes said that the goal is for many of the clients to become independent, if they are able to. However, she also acknowledged that they are asking for a long-term commitment.
“We don’t want them [the clients] to be moving from home to home to home,” Maynes said. “We want them to integrate and be part of a family.”
Bullard says that it’s been a “life-transforming” experience for him. His week is already booked between his commitments as a music director for a church, directing the International Children’s Choir of Long Beach, private music lessons and recitals, and now he and his young men regularly attend meetings held by California Mentor. Bullard says that he also makes time for family commitments with Miguel’s and Marcus’s relatives in addition to his own family. He makes sure his own family spends time with Miguel and Marcus.
“It’s just really important to make sure that we are a very well-rounded, blended extended family,” Bullard said.
California Mentor FHA
4085 Long Beach Blvd.