For a couple of years now, I’ve been working with the New Jersey state Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCP&P), advocating for youth in care. I once was at a training event for adults who wanted to foster children. I was lucky enough to be their guest speaker, to share my experience and to answer any questions they had as a youth who had been through the system. There was one couple in particular that stuck out. The wife was explaining how they had a huge house, how she had a huge heart with plenty of love to give, and if she could foster 100 kids, she would. I let her know that the world is very lucky to have people like her. But, her husband was completely silent. He was the only one who did not say a word to me for the entire two hours that I was there. For the most part, he followed his wife’s lead and listened along. Nonetheless, at the end of the session, they each got to ask me a question and it was his turn to ask a question. He said, “Would you be in the same place in life if you stayed in your home versus being placed in a foster home?” This was the first time I was ever asked that, but my answer was immediate. No. No, I would not have even graduated high school, let alone gotten a degree, if I had stayed in my old home. I may not have even survived.
I was a determined kid. Living in an abusive household as a teenager called for determination. When everything around you — everything that is happening to you — is out of your control, you focus on the things you can control. I would focus on my classes. I would focus on sports. I would focus on my friends. I was determined to give myself the best possible chance of outrunning the household I was in. I cannot control the cards I was dealt but I can control what I do with it. I was very uncertain at the time. What I did know is that my situation was temporary, and I would give myself the best chance of getting out and doing more for myself. I deserved it.
Sometimes, I think of all the people who got me to where I am today. Scratch that, I think about them a lot. I wonder if my high school guidance counselor knows that she saved my life by getting the Department of Children and Families (DCF) involved. My sister and I took many trips to her office to recount the abuse that took place the day before. The counselor kept a record of each of our reports until she had enough to bring to her boss and only went ahead with our consent.
I think of my landlord who really took a gamble on a 19-year-old kid working three part-time jobs with no co-signers. The landlord saw me move in with a suitcase and two crates of stuff as I slept on my comforter for the first three months, very happily in my own home. My landlord accepted random checks from various scholarships and financial assistance I was offered until I had enough jobs to make it.
I think of my college advisor who lets me in his office, shuts the door, and just lets me cry. I would schedule meetings so he can teach me how to receive a fax. He taught me how to budget and pay my rent and how to decipher my college bills I still don’t understand. Living on-campus, I fit all my belongings into one dorm. When I got accepted to study abroad, instead of finding a storage unit, I reached out to my advisor, asking for help. He said, “Pack it up and I will figure it out.” I came back from being abroad and visited his small office where he had stacked my bins to the ceiling. He taught me how to apply for an apartment, how to read a lease, and let me pack his tiny Nissan full of my dorm essentials to move into my first apartment. Whenever I run into a student who knows him, I always tell them not to take him for granted.
I’ve made it. I’m 22 with my bachelor’s of arts degree in sociology with a minor in fine arts. I’m still figuring it out and looking towards master’s programs. I have an apartment that I have made into a home, a very safe home. This year, I bought my first car and named it “Beethoven.” I am very assertive. I do not let another person talk down or talk over me. I am not afraid to be passionate about the things and the people I love. I will forever be grateful for the adults, professionals and anyone who has helped me. Many adults have asked questions and given me advice and direction that I was too stubborn to ask for. They’ve gone out of their way, bent the rules, and gone outside of the lines of their job description just a little to help me navigate being an adult. They’ve been understanding, flexible and very patient. They’ve avoided assumptions and have asked me what I needed help with. They have created a safe space for foster youth like me to grow up and ask all the questions YouTube couldn’t teach me. I am forever grateful for those types of people.