VALRICO — Golfers will get a chance to drive fairways, sink putts and produce birdies to help area teens fly once they age out of the foster care system.
The Grow Into You Foundation, a nonprofit that mentors foster kids transitioning into adulthood, will stage a fundraising tourney Saturday at River Hills Country Club, 3943 River Hills Parkway.
Founded in 2016, Grow Into You mentors and provides coaching to kids who'll soon be or are 18 and on their own, often with no contact with or support from their biological parents or other family members.
After serving for several years as a teacher and later as a top executive in the corporate world, Erin NeSmith left her lucrative lifestyle to follow the compassion she developed in her youth for children and teens whose family support systems are few and in many cases nonexistent.
She became a certified professional coach to help kids leaving the foster system reach their full potential rather than face a life of possible homelessness, human trafficking, hunger, drugs and jail.
"These are kids that are most vulnerable," said NeSmith, a Riverview resident who mentors kids at A Kid's Place in Brandon where she once taught, as well as at Loving Children foster home and Harris Group Home for girls, both in Tampa.
The key to helping them, she believes, is to build relationships and trust in her that she has their best interest at heart.
"The coaching process meets the teens exactly where they are and helps them to realize that the power to find and be themselves is already within them," NeSmith said. "Their victimization and anger begin to fade as their core thoughts, feelings and attitudes are talked about and brought to light."
Loving Children executive director David Rivera said he "brags" about the good NeSmith performs for "his" kids.
"She can just relate to them and she even goes to their sporting and other events to cheer them on," he said. "When she first started she maybe was able to get one kid's attention. She now has that from just about all of them and we even have boys who've aged out that still contact her."
Paloma, 18, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy, met NeSmith while a resident at the George Harris Group Home. She's since moved into an apartment with roommates in an extended foster care environment where she receives a small stipend for living expenses.
"At first I was skeptical because I was not into expressing my feelings, but she didn't judge me," Paloma said. "Miss Erin helped me a lot with my skills and how to communicate and carry myself."
When she recently had no food to eat or money to buy groceries she reluctantly called NeSmith for help.
"I was embarrassed to call her. But, she came over and brought food and showed me how to budget my money," said Paloma, who is close to getting her GED and has hopes of establishing a career either in the medical field or law enforcement.
Last year NeSmith also came to know and coach Nathan (not his real name), who at first showed no interest in taking advantage of what she had to offer.
She said he sat staring at her one evening at a local Panera restaurant as if to say, "I won't fight you, but I won't accept you either. I will just survive your visits like I am surviving foster care."
After several months of meeting with and merely listening to NeSmith, Nathan surprised her one day by talking about the "moon" on his smart watch and how interested he was in space.
From that day forward he welcomed their interactive get-togethers that included NeSmith's attending his high school ROTC awards ceremony, taking him to get his senior pictures as her gift to him, and helping him register at a local college, where she met with him regularly several times following his enrollment.
NeSmith said her personal reward for a job well received was the response Nathan gave to a college buddy who spotted him on campus one day and asked about the lady in his presence. That woman was NeSmith.
"She's cool, man. Do you know that she cares about me for no reason? It's her job to just care – about me," said NeSmith, in paraphrasing Nathan's words.
But NeSmith will also tell you that without the monetary support of individuals and businesses none of her work would be possible. The upcoming golf tournament will help sustain and grow her organization to serve more at-risk teens.
To learn more about the organization visit growintoyou.org or call (813) 966-4582.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]