Tia Cavanaugh-Favors Brings Experience and Passion to Discipleship Diversity Mentor Role
Written by Lisa Abbott
In talking with Tia Cavanaugh-Favors, it doesn’t take long to discover her heartfelt passion for children and her love for Heritage students. The path that led her to her newly created role of discipleship diversity mentor has been paved with educational, professional and life experience that makes her perfectly suited for the job.
Tia Cavanaugh-Favors, HCS Discipleship Diversity Mentor
After earning her degree in child development/child psychology from Indiana University, Cavanaugh-Favors says she knew that she wanted to help children from all walks of life. “If you’re going to help families, it’s hard to tell them what to do if you’ve not done it yourself,” she says. “I wanted to be in a position where I could say I had worked in every aspect of child welfare, so that wherever I ultimately ended up, I could say that I had been there.” Indeed, Cavanaugh-Favors has been there. You might not guess, given her soft-spoken nature, that she began her career as a fierce advocate for the rights of children in some pretty tough circumstances.
She first took an investigative role within Child Protective Services (CPS), working extensively with child welfare cases where abuse and neglect had been reported. “It gave me such perspective in helping all families,” she says. She learned that human brokenness is not limited by economic standing, as she advanced into handling ultra-confidential, alleged high-profile abuse and neglect cases in the city of Indianapolis. The heartbreaking cases evoked her innate compassion and desire to make a difference.
Cavanaugh-Favors’ next professional assignment focused on adoption facilitation and therapeutic foster care. Here, too, she poured her heart and soul into helping children. This time, she addressed the difficult and unique challenges of children whose primary attachments with their birth parents had been compromised or severed.
I’ve always believed that if you want to make a difference, be the change. I decided to be the change.
Looking back on these early professional experiences with children and families, she believes that her God-given gift of discernment was hers “to use for their benefit and for His glory.” Her tender heart was drawn to the children she served, many of whom had special needs. Through God-ordained circumstances, Cavanaugh-Favors became the mother of one such precious baby girl who needed a loving, adoptive home. “I’ve always believed that if you want to make a difference, be the change,” she says. “I decided to be the change.” As her family grew, she balanced motherhood with various full-time positions within her professional field. When her second daughter was born, she shifted to working part-time, in positions that enabled her to largely work remotely.
A Prospective Parent Becomes a Heritage Employee
Cavanaugh-Favors first intersected with Heritage last year, when she explored the school as a possible middle school option for her daughter, Maya. On their first campus visit, they loved what they saw and experienced. Women’s discipleship leader, Dina Furnish, was one of the first people they met. “She was the epitome of God’s love,” says Cavanaugh-Favors. They also appreciated the personal touch of Kaycee Swofford, on the admissions team, who was “awesome from moment one.” These encounters sold them on the school. They enrolled Maya to become a Heritage seventh grader in the 2016/2017 school year.
When Cavanaugh-Favors picked up her daughter from her first day of school at Heritage this fall, the seventh grader bounced into the car and exclaimed, “You’ll never believe it! Guess what my first science assignment was? To sit outside and write down where you see God in nature.” She marveled at how her teachers prayed during class time and related each subject matter to God. “She just thought it was so amazing,” says Cavanaugh-Favors. The family’s dinner table conversation that night focused on what Maya already was learning and processing from her science assignment. “I think God’s favorite color must be green,” her daughter conjectured. “Just look at how much green you see in nature.”
Cavanaugh-Favors with Heritage student
Sometime during the first few weeks of school, Cavanaugh-Favors scrolled through the school’s website, looking for some required online forms that needed to be completed for her daughter. She stumbled on the short list of faculty and staff positions that were currently open and needing to be filled. The title of “diversity discipleship mentor” caught her attention.
During the summer of 2016, Heritage leadership had identified a need for a qualified individual to become a mentor, role model and shepherd for middle and high school students. With the intentional growth of diversity in the school’s student body, it needed to be someone who could understand the unique and growing needs of an increasingly diverse group of students. Heritage CEO, Jeff Freeman, says, “It’s very important, as we realize that as our student body has changed, so must our employee representation.”
Still not sure she wanted to apply, Cavanaugh-Favors printed off the description and showed it to a family member, who responded with, “Did they write this job description for you? This is you!” Weeks passed. The job kept popping up across various communications from the school. Each time it did, Cavanaugh-Favors wondered if God was behind it. “I kept looking for reasons why I couldn’t do the job,” she says. One of the final tests was to float the idea with her girls. To her surprise, they all loved the idea and encouraged her to apply for the job. God lined up circumstances and cleared what might have been potential obstacles.
In a four-hour sitting one Friday night, she completed the online application, growing more and more excited as she did. “This is my life!” she thought. “This is what I’ve done in my work, my life, my church and my home.”
The great thing about being at Heritage is that this is the first time that I get to practice my faith, along with my profession.
In Cavanaugh-Favors, Freeman says they not only found a qualified candidate, but the person whom God had appointed for the important new role on campus. “Her sweet spirit and spiritual maturity and the way the Lord brought her here,” he says, “It was really a God-thing.” Cavanaugh-Favors accepted her offer of employment with excitement and a sense of clear direction from God. “The great thing about being at Heritage is that this is the first time that I get to practice my faith, along with my profession,” she says. “This is an exciting, exciting place for me to be in life. I feel like it has all culminated in my coming here.” Heritage secondary principal, Jerry Stayton, says Cavanaugh-Favors’ presence is all about developing more opportunities for real-life student ministry. “The bottom line is that we want to meet students’ needs,” he shares. “High school is just hard. We want to be there to help them when they struggle.”
Cavanaugh-Favors’ Role, Ministry and Immediate Impact
In addition to her work with students and staff, Cavanaugh-Favors also holds a seat on the school’s Diversity Council, comprised of pastors, Heritage parents, teachers and a board member. The group provides valuable feedback to Heritage leadership, as the school seeks to build unity in the school community while continuing to honor students’ diverse backgrounds and life experiences.
On her very first day in her new job, Cavanaugh-Favors visited the popular Commons area in the high school, where students often gather for snacks and conversation between classes and before and after school. She anticipated having to initiate her introductory interactions with students. Never in her wildest dreams would she have envisioned them forming a line, waiting to meet and introduce themselves to her. The unlikely scenario unfolded before her eyes. At once surprised and delighted, she met many of the students who continued to seek her out for support and counsel. “Confirmation came within days of me being here,” she says. “Right off the bat, I had an opportunity to share and minister and pray. The opportunities have not stopped since.”
I truly see this as a ministry and as a God-given assignment. It really excites me. Every initiative, every idea, every vision has to start somewhere and with someone. Why not me? Why not now?
Cavanaugh-Favors, affectionately also called “Miss Maya’s Mom” by the mostly female students she sees during her fast-paced days on campus, says her presence as a black woman in a professional role on campus sends an important message to minority students. It opens doors for her to help them see their own value and to feel welcome in their academic and social environment. “I am the face of someone they can relate to,” she explains. “Not a day goes by when I don’t go out to the Commons. They come to me. I truly see this as a ministry and as a God-given assignment. It really excites me. Every initiative, every idea, every vision has to start somewhere and with someone. Why not me? Why not now?”
Relationships with students fuel Cavanaugh-Favors' passion for her work.
In just a short period of time, Cavanaugh-Favors is making an impact on students’ lives by creating a safe place to share their struggles and receive encouragement. She beams when she talks about a middle school student who, when she first met her, was struggling to feel accepted. Her anxiety had routinely kept her home from school two to three days each week. “I knew that I had to make her feel valued and loved,” says Cavanaugh-Favors. “I told her, ‘You can come to school every day now because I have hugs for you. I’m going to be here. I’ll be looking for you.’” The encouragement worked. The student has not missed a day of school since.
Relationships like these fuel Cavanaugh-Favors’ passion for continuing the work she has begun at Heritage. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “Diversity is not just race. My hope is that I will be able to help foster a unified environment here, where all students feel accepted, valued and empowered for optimal learning. It is my sincere prayer that, together, we will continue to launch students, from all walks of life, onto a road of success and a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ.”