08/01/05 — WARM Hearts matches teens with new role models, friends

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WARM Hearts matches teens with new role models, friends

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 1, 2005 1:48 PM

A perfect match.

That's what Vanessa Spiron, director of the Family Y's WARM Hearts mentoring program, called the pairing of 10-year-old Zada Foy with Joyce Cunningham.

But it is not something she takes credit for or takes for granted. She knows it doesn't always work out that way.

Mrs. Spiron said when Zada came into the program two years ago, she had a teen mentor but the match ended when the teen went to college.

Zada Foy and Joyce Cunningham

News-Argus/Phyllis Moore

Zada Foy, right, is pictured outside the Family Y with Joyce Cunningham, her mentor from the WARM Hearts program.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cunningham had been paired with a teenage girl who decided she didn't want to continue in the program. That could have ended Ms. Cunningham's participation right then, Mrs. Spiron said, but it didn't.

"When Joyce's match didn't work out, she kept contacting me, asking me for another match," Mrs. Spiron said. Zada came to mind.

A Jacksonville native stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for the past two years, Ms. Cunningham admits to being a little nervous as the first meeting approached.

"I didn't have a connection the last time," she said. "And I didn't want to go through that again."

Zada's recollection was more positive.

"She was funny," she said. "She was exciting to me because she did things with me and stuff, like playing with me in the park."

Ms. Cunningham called herself "just a big kid. I wanted somebody who was playful."

That proved fortunate when Zada challenged her to roller skate and go fishing in a pond near Ms. Cunningham's home.

The two laugh at some of the memories they have made over the past year - comfortable conversations while driving down the road, sleepovers at Ms. Cunningham's house.

At the same time, Ms. Cunningham said her biggest desire has been to give something back to the community, spending time with someone she could affect in a positive way.

"I grew up very poor," she said. "I think it's because of my childhood that I wanted to do this. When I was growing up, there wasn't a program like this. I would have enjoyed it myself."

Reflecting on her own family members, she said she can't help but wonder, "If they had someone to look up to, if it would be different."

She said she didn't have the grades to get a scholarship or go to college and considers herself fortunate to have gotten into the military. Through the Air Force, she is working on associate degrees in two areas, criminal justice and computers.

On Tuesday, she departs for her next assignment, in Korea. Zada is also leaving the area this week, bound for Wilmington with her mother.

What could be a sad parting has instead proven to be the sweet start of a sisterly friendship for the two.

"I'm like an only child," Zada said, who has a sister who is 20 years older. "And where I live, there's no kids, no one to look up to."

She says her mother, who is disabled, has been pleased her daughter has had such a wonderful role model.

Ms. Cunningham said the admiration is mutual. She considers herself fortunate to have met Zada.

"Zada's a very bright girl, very easy-going to be a mentor to," she said.

The rising fifth-grader said she plans to keep in touch with her mentor.

"My mom says she will make me write a lot of postcards to work on my English," she said.

Observing the interaction between the two, Mrs. Spiron said she can't help but be pleased that the arrangement worked out.

"I think they were meant to be together," she said.

Ms. Cunningham said she doesn't know if she will find anything like WARM Hearts in Korea, but plans to do something like it again if the opportunity presents itself.

"I definitely recommend it," she said. "I brought it up to a lot of people at work all the time."

Mrs. Spiron said the program, which began in January 2003, always needs volunteers. She currently works with 24 matches and has 11 children on a waiting list, she said.

Several orientation sessions are being scheduled for mentors and parents interested in enrolling children in the program.

A parent orientation will be Thursday at 5:30 p.m. There will also be a mentor training for volunteers on Thursday, Aug. 18, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

For more information, call 778-8557.