From Downhill to Uphill


Self-proclaimed “cowgirls,” 18-year-old Kayetlyn and her Community Supports Mentor Cynthia Foote have formed a tight bond over the last six years. The pair met when Kayetlyn was in the sixth grade and struggling to control her emotions and get along with others at home and school. Through simple activities such as chores, watching the TV show Heartland, and taking care of horses, Kayetlyn has learned responsibility, how to self-regulate her emotions, and build relationships with others.

“It went from negative to positive, from downhill to uphill,” Kayetlyn says of her life before meeting Cynthia.

MOKA’s Community Living Supports and Skill Building programs help individuals learn skills necessary to become employed and contribute to the community. Mentors take a strength-based and person-centered approach by facilitating volunteer work and job shadowing, teaching job and life skills, and encouraging self-discovery, self-awareness, and goal setting through individualized support. Cynthia’s presence in Kayetlyn’s life emphasizes the importance a mentor plays for so many individuals who experiences challenges similar to Kayetlyn. Cynthia’s caring presence, dedication, and unique insights contribute to greater inclusion and acceptance for Kayetlyn, as well as her growing maturity in handling life’s many challenges. Prior to MOKA, Kayetlyn was fairly isolated. Other than attending school, she wasn’t connecting with the community and struggled in her relationships, particularly interacting with her siblings. Cynthia mentors Kayetlyn three days a week, and Kayetlyn always looks forward to her visits. The pair enjoy tossing a football, making candles, jewelry and clay art, and going for car rides and errands when Kayetlyn needs a break from home.

Kayetlyn volunteers at a barrel and racehorse farm in Allegan County and Cynthia is always right beside her. They do everything from walk the horses to repair broken fences to assist with the animals’ care. It’s a common pastime they share every Thursday, and Kayetlyn has shown interest in learning how to barrel race. “I get to pet them and brush them and feed them and give them treats,” Kayetlyn says. “We both love horses. We’re both cowgirls, country girls.” Cynthia introduced Kayetlyn to the television show Heartland, and has her watch the facial expressions and reactions of characters to gain insight into herself and others. “Cynthia teaches her how to read the people’s faces, whether they are sad or mad,” says Kayetlyn’s mom, Beverly. “They work on how to make compromises.” With five siblings, and two younger ones, learning to compromise has made a world of difference for Kayetlyn at home. A negative interaction at school or with a sibling used to cause her to erupt in anger, sometimes physically.

“Cynthia has taught me that I do not need to yell to get my point across to others,” Kayetlyn wrote in a letter read before MOKA’s Board of Directors. “Cynthia has taught me that I can really do anything I put my mind to. ”According to Beverly, the change in Kayetlyn has made everyone’s life better.

“She’s went from a very angry child to being a happy teenager,” Beverly says.

Kayetlyn attends Plainwell schools and maintains As and Bs in her classes. Kayetlyn is active in her church and helps her mom make candles and other crafts to sell at the church social. She excels at pottery and has made many things in art classes at school, garnering recognition and inclusion in school art exhibits. Kayetlyn says Cynthia is patient, loving and encouraging and has become a close friend. Cynthia has been by her side through trying times, including when Kayetlyn found out her dad had cancer. She credits Cynthia for helping her learn to handle frustrating situations at home and school, and how to calm herself down by breathing, petting the dog, or taking a time out. “It’s okay to go ahead and leave and take walks,” Kayetlyn says. “If you have to cry, it’s okay to cry.” At home, Cynthia motivates Kayetlyn to do homework and start and finish chores. She serves as a mediator, mentor, and friend. It’s also helped Beverly see that Kayetlyn needs freedom to do tasks on her own. “When she would start doing the housework, I would go and do it myself,” Beverly says. “I figured she wasn’t capable. I got proved wrong. There is a lot of things Katie is capable of doing.”MOKA believes every moment is a teaching moment and an opportunity to learn. Community resources, school, and family hold great opportunities for growth. Mentors bridge the gap by offering guidance and support.

Kayetlyn’s progress illustrates the critical importance of stability and long-term relationships like the one she maintains with Cynthia. “Kayetlyn and I, we have a lot in common, the things we like or dislike,” Cynthia says. “We learn from each other and we have a connection that is just really hard to explain. It has been a definite joy working with Kayetlyn. It’s a great learning experience.” Cynthia’s presence in Kayetlyn’s life has helped her blossom into a young woman with more confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness. Kayetlyn would be heartbroken without Cynthia around – a sentiment that goes both ways.