Tyler's friendship fuels former foster youth through college

volunteering as a mentor offers "absolute joy"

It wasn’t surprising that 33 year-old Tyler Lafferty was asked to be a guest speaker at a career day for high school students three years ago. 

Tyler had a lot going for him—young and handsome, he had two wildly successful businesses, a big happy family and had traveled the world. He was a model of success.

That afternoon, as he stood before an sparsely populated auditorium at Spokane Community College, he gave the basic career-day speech about his web marketing company Seven2 and the kinds of jobs they offer working with big-name clients like Nintendo, AT&T, Nickelodeon & MTV.

It wasn’t surprising either when a handful of students approached him after his speech to ask more about his work. He handed out a few business cards and went on with his day.

What was surprising was what happened to the business card that went into the pocket of a young man named Justin. A high-school senior at the time, Justin had spent twelve years in foster care being passed between homes since his sixth birthday. When a case worker in our Independent Living program asked Justin if he’d be open to having a mentor, Justin said sure and whipped Tyler’s business card out of his pocket.

“I want this guy,” he said to the stunned case worker.

A few phone calls later Tyler was seriously considering the proposition. He did a little reading about foster care and was stunned to learn than less than 2% of foster youth graduate from college. 

“This was a way I could make a tangible difference for someone who had all the odds against him,” says Tyler. It wasn’t long before Tyler and Justin were sitting together nervously at a pizza party for new mentors and mentees. 

“I was so nervous,” recalls Tyler. “I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh! I’m supposed to be this great mentor, but I don’t even know what that means.’ And ‘What if Justin doesn’t like me? Can he just turn me back in?’”

But Tyler looked around and saw other mentors who didn’t look so different from him and soon realized that “the main thing they ask of you as a mentor is to just get involved.”  As the pair talked they quickly found common interests in web design, technology, music and cars.

The two have been meeting up several times a month ever since. And more than just hanging out, Tyler wanted Justin to know someone believed he could succeed in anything he tried in life. Tyler wanted to be that somebody.

“We both got frustrated at first. I would get upset with him for not completing his homework or when he didn’t know how to stick to a budget. But I just had to keep reminding myself that he hadn’t really ever had anyone holding him accountable for doing his homework or teaching him basic life skills. I always took those things for granted because my parents filled that role. Now I can pass that on to Justin.”

Three years later, their relationship has blossomed. 

“Tyler has become nothing short of a best friend,” says Justin, who is almost finished with his associate’s degree at Spokane Falls Community College and then plans to begin studying at a four-year university. Tyler stays in contact with Justin’s professors who agree that the pair’s hard work together has resulted in good grades, impending graduation and a bright future for Justin.

“It brings me absolute joy to know that Justin is beating the statistics. It’s been such a positive experience for both of us,” says Tyler. “I feel lucky to know him. It won’t be long before he’s not just my mentee, but we could very well be peers together working in the same industry. I want to stay part of Justin’s life forever.”