If I Survived Foster Care, Surely I Can Manage the Pandemic

Adjustments to her work caused by the coronavirus pandemic have given Jennifer Martinez pause to reflect on how that is exacerbated by her years in the foster care system. Here she is in her home office. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Martinez

I thought I had fought my way to a better life, especially after the last few years that have proven to be harder than when I was in foster care. Being a former foster youth, there is one thing that you learn and that is to find your strength and fight to make yourself and the world better. Yet here I am, concerned about bills, the health of my husband, and my job.

Last summer, I was offered and happily accepted a position as an insurance agent with USAA. It has been a dream job of mine for a few years. I knew that they had been taking care of me for years and I was capable of being “one of them,” someone who could continue to help members like myself. Turns out it was the perfect job for me. I was excited for so much. I had finally been offered a position as a delegate for National Shadow Day, a program on Capitol Hill where former foster youth spend a week with a congressional leader providing valuable insight to appointed leaders on matters regarding foster youth in their states – and I was preparing for a new promotion at work.

Word had spread that this novel disease was hitting hard in China. The numbers were staggering, yet how could this affect me? I kept an eye on things in case our insurance company’s members were affected. I wanted to be ready to help if I could, or at the bare minimum, know what they were talking about when they called me. I am an insurance agent, but it’s not just about insurance. It’s all about ensuring that my member is taken care of.

Americans were being brought home and quarantined. Things looked like they weren’t going to get worse here. Then the first cases started to be reported. When the first case was reported in Arizona, I will admit that I was nervous. “Fine. This can be contained. What’s the worst that can happen?” I wish my thought process had been different.

I did everything that my job asked of us, not that it was any different for me. Made sure that we stayed clean and healthy. Kept the house and my workspace as clean as possible. Ensured that we had sanitizer with us at all times. The normal things that we were being asked to do. Then my job made the decision to send part of our teams home. I wasn’t selected. A conversation about my husband’s health reminded me that this wasn’t just a simple cold or flu. COVID-19 was affecting so many and he was more at danger because of his health and age. I grew more and more uneasy.

Then things for me came to a grinding halt last week when I answered a call from my best friend’s husband, asking if I could come get them as his daughter was being rushed to the emergency room. I immediately stepped up, as it wasn’t the first time this request had been made. Sad the things that become “normal” for some families and friends. We knew at that point that hospitals were taking extra measures to protect patients, but that night I found out just how far they were going. My friend’s husband came out with keys in a sealed bag that reminded me of an evidence bag. We laughed about it as I took them to their car. Thought nothing else of it as I drove home. Then I got word that her daughter, who is like a niece to me, was tested for flu and coronavirus. I stopped dead in my tracks because this had finally become real to me. Someone I love dearly was thought to have it.

The next morning I was not feeling well so I stayed home. I made the decision to have a discussion with my doctor and they determined that I should self-quarantine until my friend’s daughter’s test results were back. I would be tested if my symptoms warranted it. To date, they haven’t. A long discussion was had with my manager, and emergency pay was activated for me because I could not come into the office and I was not set up for work at home yet. Days came and went and still no word about the results or whether I could work from home. Monday my manager texts me that he has good news! I can work from home! Thank you, Jesus! With that good news came some disappointing news as well. My promotion at work would have to wait as I was supposed to start training on Monday. Even I wouldn’t be able to catch up with three full days missed. I was devastated to no end.

As I sit here tonight to share my story, I look around at my home office. It is now the home to two fully operational computers, one for me and one for work. I am thankful and truly blessed that I work for such an amazing company. My manager was amazing and has me in the next training class, so my promotion is only a few weeks off track. I would be lying if I did not admit that I am still concerned. I am working full-time, but my husband works for a local small business. His pay is heavily impacted by this pandemic. I worry about how we will make it through. But if there is one thing that life has taught me, it is that we will find a way.

I am a former foster youth. I have weathered through many storms before this. If I survived then, surely I can do it now with a strong, amazing partner next to me. I am reminded about that which doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger.

We are Americans. When push comes to shove, we find out who we are and we come together. It is how this great nation was founded. We are not perfect. Far from it. Yet we are Americans and still here. We are a country who has proven we can overcome anything. We will overcome this and be better for it.

Jennifer Martinez has been a foster youth advocate for 10 years, part of that with California Youth Connection. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, now, but is originally from the Los Angeles area where she spent a year-and-a-half in foster care. Martinez is now happily married with four fur babies and works as an insurance agent. 

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