August 03, 2018

Meeting new Friends:

Tonya Lyles joins Friends of the Children—Austin

Tonya Lyles has always worked with youth in one capacity or another. She has been a camp counselor, mentor, advocate, artist-in-residence, adviser, teacher, program coordinator, curriculum developer and performer in local schools and community. The Austin chapter interviewed Tonya to learn more about her passion for this work and how she’s making a difference in the lives of the youth she serves.

Q. Why Friends of the Children–Austin?

A. The need for this kind of program is great in Austin. It is true that Austin is a wonderful city, but most of Austin’s lower socio-economic families are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. This means less adult presence, patience, and time for their children. The need for mentors or “Friends” is great. I wanted to offer the skills I have to give more support to this population.

Q. Tell us a little about your background that prepared you for your work with Friends of the Children?

A. I have always worked with youth in one capacity or another. I believe the memory of my existence lives with the youngest life that I touch. I have held this thought for almost thirty years. I have been a camp counselor, mentor, advocate, artist-in-residence, adviser, teacher, program coordinator, curriculum developer, and performer in local schools and community. This has allowed me to see children and youth in many different ways. I have also been the person called for crisis intervention, trouble-shooting, advice and comfort. I felt a Friend should be able to do that and be that.

Q. What excited you about becoming a Friend?

A. The role of the Friend and the age of the youth was the hook for me. I have worked with teens in crisis (gang violence, sexual violence, physical abuse and neglect, truancy, and homelessness), and thought about how wonderful it would be to work with youth at a much younger age. Getting them tools earlier on would give them the ability to have more self-efficacy in their lives and begin to mend the wounds earlier.

Q. Favorite moment with one of your kids?

A. One of my favorite moments so far is meeting a family for the first time, having the child run towards me for a hug and then be so excited she couldn’t sit still on the couch.

Q. Did you have a mentor growing up who inspired you?

A. When I think about my early ‘mentors’, unfortunately I often found the people who worked with me had implicit racial bias and approached me out of their own guilt, and sometimes ignorance. I often felt tolerated or objectified. I do not want these children to ever experience that.

Q. Quote you live your life by?

A. “If there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Theresa

Q. Favorite things to do on your day off?

A. Movies at Alamo Drafthouse.