Utah State Extension in Juab County: Blending Families
Sometimes families come together in the strangest ways. In 1990 Karen Barrett saw a television show about the thousands of children in Romanian orphanages and, like many people around the world, felt an urge to help. The only difference is that Barrett was 50 years old and already had eight children of her own. Still she got on a plane and returned with two one-year-olds -- Mari and Aaron.
Life got more complicated as her husband suffered through a protracted illness that took his life two years ago. Mari started acting out in school and becoming gradually more depressed and uncontrollable.
"I was at a loss of what to do," Barrett says. "I tried sending her away for a month to live with someone else, but that didn't seem to help. Then I came across the Youth and Families with Promise program through Extension. They set Mari up with a young mentor named Annalee Lundell."
Youth and Families with Promise (YFP) is a mentoring program administered through Utah State Extension that matches mentors and grand-mentors with at-risk youth ages 11-14.
Lundell says she started meeting with Mari first just helping her with homework and doing simple things like going out for ice cream. She gradually started including her own family activities and introducing her to other girls her own age.
Barrett says that in the last year Mari has turned around from a depressed girl who was refusing to go to school to someone who is getting good grades and making friends. She even sang a solo in front of the whole school.
"Something just turned around, and I will forever be grateful," she says.
Lundell, who is now attending Utah Valley Community College, says she was just happy to be part of the team of people who helped Mari turn her life around. "For me, the experience has made me appreciate my own family much more and reminded me that I needed to give something back."