Just One Caring Adult

by Andrea Meier

The presence of a caring adult cannot be overvalued.

There are key people and relationships that shape and influence our lives. They might be parents, teachers, coaches, or priests. Most importantly, they are caring adults.

For Cameron Baker, one of those key relationships is with parishioner Jon Palmer. Cameron is one of the “Adults in Training” at A Lighted Path, a local non-profit launched by St. John the Divine in 2022. The Adults in Training initiative pairs young adults aging out of the foster care system with an ally — a caring adult who will mentor them as they become independent young adults. “I didn’t know at the time I met Jon that he had a similar background to me,” Cameron recalls, “but after meeting him a few times, I realized that I wanted my story to be like his.”

There are many alarming statistics surrounding extended foster care in Texas. While extended foster care to age 21 is available, young adults must opt in and many fall through the cracks. Within four years of aging out of foster care, 1 in 4 young adults will be homeless and less than 3% will graduate from college. Housing insecurity, incarceration, substance abuse, lack of stable employment, and unplanned pregnancy are among the outcomes for up to 70% of young adults who age out. For the remaining 30%, research shows that at least one caring adult outside the system made the difference.

Jon’s story also includes a childhood in foster care. However, unlike Cameron and many of the young people participating in the Adults in Training initiative, the same foster parent cared for him from age 5 through his high school graduation. His story continued with four years of service in the Coast Guard followed by college, marriage, children, and a job as a commercial computer programmer at a bank. Looking back on this time, he sees the importance of mentoring relationships in his life. “I had people. There were several people in the bank who took me under their wing, who helped me, who pulled me along,” Jon remembers. “And I was delighted by it. I felt really good to develop those relationships with people, some that I still have today.”

A Chosen Relationship

Cameron’s connection to A Lighted Path and to Jon began as he entered adulthood. “I was in my last year at an adult transition facility when our director there introduced us to Lori [Gobillot]”, Cameron recalls. “She wanted to create an organization that would help young adults after we left a facility like I was in, and she got a group together that wanted to participate. We sat down and brainstormed some ideas of what the name of it would be and how it would work. Adults in Training is the name that we agreed on and actually made up together.”

The first group of young adults participating in the initiative did not just pick the name of their program; they also chose their allies or mentors. “It was like speed dating,” Jon recalls. “Lori Gobillot arranged the meeting. A dozen St. John the Divine volunteers for the Adults in Training Program attended and gave their pitch to the group of young guys and gals who wanted to participate in the program and choose an ‘Ally’. And then the young adults picked which volunteer they wanted to serve as their Ally.”

Cameron remembers meeting Jon. “When I got there, I was just kind of introducing myself, trying to see what people liked, what backgrounds they had, and if there was any common interest. Jon had a really good connection with me. He used to do programming, and I thought that was a really cool thing because I’m really interested in technology. And one of the career choices I want to go into is civil engineering.”

Lighting the Path to Independent Adulthood

Cameron and Jon had to build trust through experiences as they began their Adult in Training/Ally relationship. “When we first got started, there was a little bit of apprehension … a little bit of reserve,” Jon recalls. Cameron began an online program at University of Houston Downtown (UHD). Jon was talking with him regularly about his classes. “[Cameron] would say, ‘I’m doing great on all my quizzes. Everything’s good. I’m rocking.’ But there was a system UHD used for communicating about tests and assignments called UHD email. And he wasn’t on it. He missed the boat.”

Jon remembers seeing Cameron’s resilience through that situation. “Out of that came a recognition about the way UHD works and he learned from it. He had support, that he would not have had before, of others who were participating to help him get through that; to get enrolled in person, get going, and move on. I would say that’s been one of the real benefits of the program. It’s just having somebody to fall back on, somebody to counsel with.”

Cameron is now in his second term as a full-time, in-person student at UHD and has felt Jon’s support “lighting his path”. “He’s definitely helped me in some stressful situations,” Cameron says. “He’s always there whenever I have something to talk about, where I’ve been like, ‘What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to deal with this? One of the things was when I was trying to get a new job, and the job was actually a pretty good distance away and he helped me figure out transportation.”

Jon and A Lighted Path also helped Cameron navigate the affordable housing system to secure an apartment near his school and job as his time at DePelchin Children’s Center was ending. “I didn’t know where I was going to go after DePelchin because I didn’t really have very much experience and I didn’t know how to apply for an apartment,” Cameron recalls. “I didn’t know any of the basic stuff that I would need to get set up. I’m so glad A Lighted Path was there. And Jon was there to help guide me through a lot of the difficulties and challenges that I was facing.”

Cameron is now living independently. As he reflects on his and Jon’s relationship, he sees the emotional benefits of having a caring adult on his team. “I definitely think this relationship has benefitted me in positive ways. It’s opened me up to opportunities and helped me in the social regard of things. He’s helped me feel more comfortable interacting with people. He’s introduced me to his family, and they’re all very nice people.”

Jon is proud of Cameron and the work he has done. “A lot of the things that you need to do to be a certified adult, Cameron has done over the past couple of years. And I think that Cameron would describe himself as a young adult, not an ‘adult in training’. He’s got a driver’s license, a job, a couple of college credits. He’s living independently. He’s living in a beautiful apartment, Houston House, downtown. He can walk to the Metro, hop on, and be in school in eight minutes.”

As Cameron continues his journey into independent adulthood, he and Jon look forward to many years of connection. Jon states, “This Adults in Training relationship, in my view, is not a temporary thing. This is not, ‘I’m going to take you from the age of 18 to 21, and I’m going to cut you loose. I’m going to go fi nd somebody else.’ When you develop this relationship, it is a relationship that lasts. And it’s healthy. And as long as Cameron is around and as long as we can do it, my intent is to not only continue to develop the relationship, but to continue to help each other.”

A Lighted Path is a local non-profit launched from the “Community Engagement Project” at St. John the Divine in 2022. Focused on implementing initiatives that will improve short-term and long-term outcomes for the very young, school-aged youth, and young adults disadvantaged by social and economic disparities, A Lighted Path is “lighting the path” through relationships, positive one-on-one interactions, and mentoring. Are you called to “light the path”? Visit to sign up.

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