The man Quinton Lee considers his father figure is just six years his senior.
When Lee, a 19-year-old resident at The Methodist Home in Macon, thinks of what it means to have a father, he doesnt think of his biological parent, who walked out of his life when he was 5.
Instead, he thinks of Jarvis Adside, one of the counselors at the childrens home, who has served as his mentor for the two years Lee has lived there.
I have a strong belief in God. Hes sent me certain people in my life, like Mr. Jarvis, who I can look to, Lee said. As far as my biological father, were still developing a relationship, but I cant call him my father. I call him my Pops.
Adside, himself a father of a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, said he tries to be a role model for Lee and the other youths at the home.
I always thought of it as more of a big brother-little brother thing, said Adside, a program manager at the home. I was taken by surprise when (Lee) said it. Thats probably one of the most rewarding things to me.
Adside said hes feeling a kind of parental pride as Lee gets ready to graduate from the E.L. Home Study High School Program later this summer. Lee plans to continue his education at South Georgia Technical College to earn an associate degree before attending the Art Institute of Atlanta in two years.
Adside can relate to what it means to grow up without a father. His own dad died when he was 10, leaving him to be raised by his uncles and grandmother. One of his uncles is a Baptist minister, and Adside became very involved with working with youngsters through the churchs youth groups and day care. Taking a job at The Methodist Home was a natural step, he said.
Before Lee arrived at The Methodist Home two years ago, much of his life had been a series of unstable situations. His father signed over parental rights to Lees mother, but she wasnt much better equipped to raise children. She sent Lee to live with his grandmother as she did with his older brother, Anthony Matthews, now a 26-year-old computer engineer in Atlanta.
After his grandmother wasnt able to care for him, Lee went to live with his godparents for a time before ending up in the Hall County Division of Family and Children Services system. Lee would end up going through 30 group home placements before ending up at The Methodist Home when he turned 17.
Jim Waters, director of donor relations at The Methodist Home, said Lee didnt take to his new surroundings easily.
Hes grown a lot since coming here, Waters said. Hed likely attribute a lot of that to Jarvis. ... Jarvis has taken Quinton under his wing and helped guide him through difficult times. ... Quinton has been one of our shining stars, especially with his interest in art. He wasnt always like that, but hes really grown into it.
Adside said much of Lees growth can be attributed to Methodist Home employees simply talking to Lee and not letting him down. For example, simple acts such as agreeing to take Lee to get a haircut and then following through on his promise went a long way in building trust.
Quinton didnt want to be here, Adside said. He had been through so many failed adoptions and placements that he came here feeling that this was just another program. But I did a lot of talking with him, and told him this was a great place with a lot of opportunities. ... We built a trust. It was small things, making sure he got a haircut. Hes had a lot of people in his life who didnt follow through with things.
Age makes difference
Being a parental figure in Lees life means Adside has to adjust the way he approaches things than he would with his own children. If one of his own children act up, theyre at an age when he can give them a timeout. But with older kids like Lee, discipline is more like a conversation, Adside said.
Its very different, he said. My kids are very young. Theyre in the developmental stages. But with kids who are 18, 19, its a whole different approach. ... Its definitely a different perspective. It keeps me balanced with different skill sets.
Lee said his perspective of the foster care system changed at The Methodist Home because people like Adside, Waters and other staff seemed genuinely inclined to help him. In addition, he was given a lot of opportunities to pursue his interests and go on trips with other residents. Theyve gone whitewater rafting and to Atlanta to watch the Braves play.
The support is there, Lee said. I got to go to Myrtle Beach, (South Carolina), and me and my friend were rapping. We had 30 or 50 people watching us.
Lee initially wasnt supposed to be a resident at the home. He showed up there accompanying a friend who was being considered for the home when officials said there was an extra opening.
Though hes been interested in art since he was 12, it was at the Methodist Home where he gained confidence while working in several art mediums and writing poetry and music. This year, he designed the homes Celebration Day T-shirts.
You get a sense of accomplishment, Lee said. The skys the limit here.
Recently, Lee has been in contact with his biological father, who lives in Beaufort, South Carolina. He said the two of them are working on reconciling, and the early results have been encouraging.
I hadnt communicated with my father, but hes reached out to me, Lee said. I have a forgiving heart. I have a positive relationship with him, and hopefully Ill spend some time with him in the future.
Lee said he hasnt confronted his father about why he abandoned him all those years ago and isnt sure he will.
I aint felt comfortable asking him why, he said. Im not going to judge him on his past, but (Ill) judge him on the man he is today. Some questions dont even matter.
Adside said he and the staff helped prepare Lee to forge a relationship with his father. Theyre also committed to being there for Lee in case things dont work out.
We encouraged him to reach out to his father, Adside said. The older hes gotten, the more mature hes become. But he should prepare for both extremes.
Meanwhile, Adside said hell still be there for Lee as he gets ready to go to college. Lee can remain a resident of The Methodist Home until he graduates, unless he decides to leave on his own.
It gives me a lot of pride to see him graduate (from high school), Adside said. Im blown away by the success these kids have. It lets me know Ive got to stay focused and continue to be a model for young people. It keeps me motivated to do what Im doing. Its what can happen when adults invest their time in young people.