OGDEN — Sometimes they sound like sisters.
They both like Coca-Cola over Pepsi, and are avid readers.
“We both like Lady Gaga,” Bree said. “Some of her songs, not all of them.”
“We like some of her outfits, not all of them,” Catherine adds during a recent lunch.
They also share a love of horror movies.
“Despite what movie reviewers might want to hear after ‘Resident Evil 4,’ obviously there is going to be a ‘Resident Evil 5,’ ” said Catherine.
“She likes horror movies and listens to rock, not country or opera,” said Bree, who then brings up Ozzie Osbourne. “When he talks, you can’t understand him, but he can still sing the lyrics to his songs.”
“Bree’s introduced me to things I wouldn’t have experienced,” Catherine said.
Bree is an 18-year-old “aging out” of state-run foster care; Catherine Conklin is a 2nd District Court commissioner, a judgeship presiding over divorces and protective orders, among other things.
They came together when matched in July under the Mentor Connection program.
Run out of Ogden’s juvenile court, the program is a first in the state hoping to provide a safety net for 18-year-olds outgrowing foster care.
The Division of Child and Family Services had to take the youths, through no fault of their own, from the home of their malfunctioning biological parents.
And now DCFS is losing custody as the youths reach adult age, said Sarah Pomeroy, an administrator with the DCFS Northern Region.
She handles the mentor program, along with Chris Wilson, a 2nd District Juvenile Court official in Ogden.
“Youths aging out of foster care are vulnerable to homelessness, pregnancy, incarceration and other problems — much more so than those aging out of traditional family situations,” Pomeroy said.
“On average, nationwide, youths leave their home at age 24. Ours are leaving at age 18 or 19 with much less support around them.”
“These are kids who are so vulnerable because they’ve been tossed around a lot,” Wilson said, “some since they were very young. But they are also resilient.”
The officials and mentors are banned by privacy laws governing juvenile court, as well as a gag order from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, from talking about the family situations Bree and other teens were in before being rescued by DCFS.
Basically, they can’t go home once they are released from foster care.
“There’s a lot of disconnect, a misconception out there that they are in foster care because they did something wrong,” Pomeroy said. “These are not kids with criminal records.”
The Mentor Connection has run off a very small federal grant the past two years, with 15 volunteer mentors so far coming forward, three groups of five, set up via sessions with 15 teens, most recently in mid-November.
The kids attend an orientation one night, the mentors an orientation another night, then the “matching” gathering brings them all together the next night.
Each 18-year-old sits at a table with three questions to ask the five or six mentors on hand. They sit for four minutes at a table talking individually, then the bell rings and the mentors rotate to sit with another teen.
“It really is like speed dating,” Wilson said. “It’s a great ice-breaker that way.”
The youths then confidentially list their top three choices, and Pomeroy and Wilson go from there to match mentors to the youths.
“So far, they’ve all matched themselves,” said Pomeroy, meaning each teen was matched with one of their three finalists.
The only thing limiting the program is time commitment and the number of mentors.
“We’ve got plenty of kids who’d like one,” Pomeroy said. “People are busy and don’t understand what the program entails.
“But I’m encouraged that we are going to find more mentors. I will say we need more men to match with our males who are in care.”
Funding does not allow for advertising, so mentor recruiting has been word of mouth.
Fellow 2nd District judges and mentors W. Brent West and Mike DiReda talked Conklin into it in July.
“I was trying to find a way to do something more to be directly involved with people and to try to help some folks,” Conklin said.
“It’s been a great experience,” West said, now involved with his second mentee.
His first, an 18-year-old girl, graduated from Ben Lomond High School under his watch, earned a letter in athletics, and is attending Weber State University. He’s now mentoring the girl’s younger brother.
“It’s a friendship I’m sure I’ll have for the rest of my life,” DiReda said of his experience. “My mentee knows he can call me any time.”
Shane and Patty Rose, who run their own consulting businesses in information technology and accounting, respectively, are also matched with their second “mentee,” as Patty, Conklin and others, call the teens.
The mentors said including the teens in holiday gatherings is a highlight.
“Our current mentee has graduated from high school and is living on her own at 17,” said Patty Rose. “She is super busy, has two jobs, and we keep in touch mostly through text messages.
“Texting works bests with teens,” Rose said, laughing. “She is so on the ball and directing her own life, we have mainly been getting to know her and just hanging out when our schedules permit.”
Rose said mentors work as counselors, not taskmasters.
“To be a friend, a shoulder, an ear, whatever,” she said. “It’s not about giving advice, it’s about being there with them. If they seek advice, we’ll give it, but we don’t want to come off like another nagging adult parental figure.”
Mentor Connection is the brainchild of the late 2nd District Juvenile Judge Kathleen Nelson, who died suddenly in August from complications from a fall.
“She massaged us into starting this program,” Wilson said. “We’d have nothing if not for her. It’s her legacy.”
“I get emotional talking about Judge Nelson’s passion for this program,” Pomeroy said. “She saw the potential in those kids every day.”
Bree was selected by the officials as the media subject, one who would do justice to Nelson’s faith.
“That match was just perfect,” Pomeroy said of Bree linking up with Conklin. “The sky’s the limit for Bree. But I’m not sure if she sees that. She’s an amazing young lady who has overcome a lot.”
Bree just needs to finish her high school diploma before Conklin can take her apartment hunting.
“I don’t know if Commissioner Conklin knows this, but Bree said of the matching, ‘As long as I don’t get matched with any sort of judge, because I don’t like judges,’ ” Pomeroy said.
“We razz her about that. She just says, ‘She’s not a judge, she’s a commissioner.’ ”
• Duties: Provide adult role model for teens outgrowing foster care and DCFS custody.
• Minimum requirements: Age 25 or older, pass background check, able to make a two-year commitment.
• Contact: Chris Wilson, 2nd District Juvenile Court in Ogden, or Sarah Pomeroy, state Division of Child and Family Services, Northern Region, respectively, at Chrisw@email.utcourts.gov and email@example.com.
Foster care in Utah
Total “in care” children
• 1998: 4,705
• 2000: 4,353
• 2003: 3,781
• 2005: 3,860
• 2009: 4,532
Adoptions from foster care
• 2005: 438
• 2006: 490
• 2007: 574
• 2008: 515
• 2009: 549
Ages of adoptees by percent in 2009
• 0-5: 68 percent
• 6-8: 17 percent
• 9-15: 13 percent
• 16 and older: 2 percent
Source: Utah Division of Child and Family Services, 2009 Annual Report