From filly to mare

Susan Pearson-Atkinson

Photo By Larry Dalton

For more information about mentoring a foster child or to attend a training session, contact Wonder Inc. at (916) 921-9777 or visit their Web site at

A stalwart in Sacramento-area broadcasting for close to 30 years, Susan Pearson-Atkinson was an on-air reporter for KCRA, anchorwoman at Channel 13 and host, reporter and producer for KVIE. But in 2004, her career was cut short by an injury that revealed an underlying health condition. Rather than sit around the house, Pearson-Atkinson instead added a new, much younger friend to her life. In the last four years, she’s forged a new role: as a mentor to a foster child, working through Wonder Inc. Pearson-Atkinson has been mentoring 12-year-old M.J. for the last four years.

So how did you get recruited to mentor a foster child?

I had a kind of an epiphany, reluctantly. In 2004, I had an accident and broke my hip. A dog ran into me at full-speed and flipped me up and over onto my patio. I had surgery that night, but over the next few weeks it became apparent that there was something deeply wrong, and we discovered that I had a genetic immune disorder. It turned my whole life upside down. I was forced to retire.

My husband said, “Just stay home and play with your horses,” but that seemed a little self-centered. I was wondering what I would do with my time when I saw an article about Wonder Inc. in the paper. I went to a number of their training meetings, and it just became more and more clear that my journey was leading me in this direction.

Did you know the match was a good one right away?

When they were wrapping up the training and we were getting ready to be matched with a child, they asked what one thing I would want with a child, and I said, “Enthusiasm!” They paired me with M.J., and she is enthusiasm personified.

At one of our first meetings, I was sharing a bit about how my youngest son was getting ready to leave home for college, and I wouldn’t have a child at home anymore, and she looked at me and said, “Well, aren’t you lucky I came along!”

What’s been hardest about your mentoring relationship with her?

I’ve come to understand what a stressful situation it is for a foster child to be moved. The reasons don’t appear to make much sense to us, but there are infractions and so the social worker would say, “We’ve got to move them.”

M.J. and her siblings had been moved three times, and I was informed that they would be moved a fourth time, and I was ready to take somebody down. How dare a system that’s supposed to take care of these children shuffle them around like that!

But during the weekend that all this was happening, while I was waiting to find out where she would be and if I would be allowed to continue with her, I went to a spiritual retreat and I just really felt called to be rid of this anger. So I returned home, and the next week the director of the organization called and it turned out that they’d been moved to the little hamlet that I live in.

Now, I wasn’t asking for that, but I think that God heard that I was asking for the best for these children, and they landed with a wonderful family just down the street from me!

What’s been the most fun with her?

We’ve had some wonderful adventures, but I think maybe our biggest bonding has been through my horses. M.J. kind of liked the idea of horses, but she wasn’t all that sure about riding one. I took her over to a friend’s place where they had a pony—this was four years ago—and she was so frightened! She wouldn’t try to ride it; all she could handle was just sitting there. And now I sponsor her in Pony Club, and she’s become quite an accomplished rider.

Now, this is not the usual experience. I just happen to have horses. We’ve done a number of different activities. They really encourage you to give your kiddo a wide range of experiences, so we’ve done everything from skipping stones at the river to going to the movies. But I’ve got three horses, and M.J. really has taken to it.

The other thing I did, because I didn’t want the horses to be exclusive to M.J., is that I’ve offered to Wonder Inc. to have other mentors and children come up for a few riding lessons.

What’s the biggest surprise about mentoring a foster child?

It’s that you put in this time expecting that you’re helping someone else, and it turns out that they’re helping you. I’ve learned about resilience. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to this child’s ability to rebound from whatever life throws her way. She’s got this desire to have a good life.

She keeps me young. She keeps me in touch with my inner child. And at a time that was really tough for me, to have to give up my career after 30 years in broadcasting, she brought light back into my life.