Awards for Youth in Foster Care - Youth Communication

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Awards for Youth in Foster Care - Youth Communication

Grand Prize WinnerI H E L P E D B Y . . .DominiqueAge: 20SCO Family of ServicesAdvocating for OthersHaving a positive impact doesn’t necessarilyhave to be as dramatic as rescuing someonefrom a burning building, or jumping on thetrain tracks to save a person who has fallenwhile a train races by at 80 miles per hour. Itruly believe the small things are what mattermost. One of my goals upon coming intofoster care was learning about my rightsand about how to take advantage of theagency resources. I gradually increased myknowledge of foster care and how the systemoperates. This knowledge empowered me toshare what I learned with my peers and evensome staff.During my years in foster care, I have oftenworked to help others further themselvesand engage in positive activities. I rememberan instance in which one of my peers wasnot sure if the agency could help her pay forher dance school, and I talked with her aboutoptions. I suggested she make a deal with theprogram manager to pay for half of the classeswith her chore money. This would helpher become more responsible, build trustwith the staff, and, at the same time, allowher to pursue her passions.to jail. After listening to what they said, Iwanted to help be a voice for other youthaging out because I thought they could relateto me. If I can successfully come out of fostercare the right way, hopefully I can be asource of encouragement for them.Our main objective is to educate youth abouttheir options upon discharge from fostercare, including college and scholarships. Weencourage each other to step up and tell theadvisors about issues, concerns, and ideas.The current board is still in its early stages,but as I prosper with the YAB, I want to lookback on this experience as something I wouldbe proud of. Hopefully, I’ll make a hugeimpact on someone’s life. ¨Recently, I was given the opportunity tojoin a group run by ACS called the YouthAdvisory Board (YAB). The group advocatesfor young people who are in care or whorecently aged out, and they are recruitedfrom all different agencies. There are aboutnine members, all between the ages of 16-21.To participate, we had to go through trainingand attend workshops.At the first interview, I was really inspiredto help. I know the statistics about whathappens to kids in foster care after they ageout—so many kids become homeless or go3


Grand Prize WinnerI W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .SadeAge: 19Seamen’s Society forChildren and FamiliesI Had to Rely on MyselfWhen I entered foster care, someone shouldhave told me that a loving foster parentwould be hard to find. I am 19 years old andhave been in foster care since I was 11. Sinceentering care, I have lived in six differenthomes. This may not sound too bad, but itis a nightmare for a young child looking forsomeone to call Mommy or Daddy or to hearthe words “I love you.”When my friends told me about their parentbuying them something or about somethingthey did to make them mad, I just wantedto know how they felt. It would upset me tohear my friends talk bad about their parents.I felt that they took for granted how luckythey were to have parents that loved them.No matter how many friends I had and nomatter what foster home I was in, I alwaysfelt like I did not belong.When I was little, I remember seeing a Tonkatruck commercial about a little girl whosefather surprised her with a Barbie jeep. Thatgirl was so happy to receive the present thatshe wrapped her arms around her father’sneck. I would have given anything for thathug.I hated living with foster parents who hadkids of their own because they would treatthem better than me. I remember wonderinghow anyone could love me when my ownparents didn’t. How could a complete strangerlove a troubled child?I never told my friends that I was in fostercare because I thought they would makefun of me, but I also thought that they knewanyway. I did not dress like them or ownthe same nice things that they did. Therewere nights that I would cry myself to sleepbecause it hurt so much. I would pray to Godto take me away from this world. I did notwant to go through this if I had to do it onmy own.My older sister was also in foster care but shewasn’t always supportive. I could not blameher, though, because she was going throughher own experience in care. My foster motherof three, long, hurtful years always separatedus from each other. I guess she liked my sisterbetter. I wouldn’t have minded so muchif I had given her a reason to hate me but Ididn’t. She just did and I could feel it everytime she looked at me.One day I had had enough. I did not mindbeing separated from her children becausethey were mean to me anyway, but I wouldno longer let her keep me from my ownsister. It took my sister a little longer to recognizethe nightmare I was living but onceshe did, she teamed up with me and it’s beenthat way ever since.From that time forward I decided that Iwould not live anywhere that I was notwanted. I had found my voice and I promisednever to lose it. My opinion wouldbe heard if I had to scream it at the top ofmy lungs. I discovered that no one wouldlove me as much as I should love myself. Ifound inner strength and self-worth. It nolonger bothered me that I did not have myparents—I saw it as their loss, not mine. Forgood or bad, foster care has made me theperson I am today and I am finally happywith who I am. ¨4


Grand Prize WinnerI W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .DolkarAge: 18Coalition for HispanicFamily ServicesCollege Was an EscapeMy alcoholic father constantly beat me, andsadly, my poor younger brother too. Youknow in comic books and cartoons whensomeone hits somebody else’s head so hardthat all of a sudden stars sparkle around theirhead? Well, I had always laughed at those,thinking they were unreal and imaginative,until I actually saw stars firsthand due to thekicking and punching of my father.My father caused me so much pain everyday that even moving my hair would hurt.Sometimes it was impossible to sleep,because of the combination of the physicalpain and the thought of what was to cometomorrow. What hurt me the most was lyingdown next to my innocent brother, whosetears ran down his face.I was sure that my dad would beat me again,so I did not see life as worth living. I thoughtthat it was better to kill myself and make myfather realize the value of losing a child sothat he could be nice to my little brother andtreat him better. When I actually went to cutmy wrist, images of my mother appeared.I was separated from her ever since I wasthree and I always thought that I would seeher before she died. It broke my heart to bedoing this to my mother but my goal wasmaking my brother’s life better and teachingmy father a lesson.So I took a very sharp knife, went to thebathroom and cut both of my wrists. Bloodyall over and not able to sleep, I wrote a letterto my father and my brother. I really thoughtthat I was going to die.went back to school my Spanish teacher sawall the bruises on my wrists and my face. Sheinformed my assistant principal, who calledACS, social workers, and the police.From that day on I lived in foster homes. Inmy Tibetan society, children didn’t put theirparents in jail like I did, so everybody consideredme a bad person. In the beginning I gotrejection in my own society so I was scaredand ashamed to go outside. As I grew up,problems in my foster care multiplied since Ididn’t have a loving older figure in my life tosupport my brother and me or to fight for us.People started to accuse me of things I neverwould have dreamed of doing—like havingan affair with my foster father. All thesehorrible experiences in foster care made medistant from my foster parents. There were alot of days when I starved because I wouldlock myself in my room to avoid hearing thenegative comments from them. Sometimes Ifelt suffocated staying in my room the wholeday crying and thinking about how to dealwith all my problems.I wish someone had told me to brush off allof the negativity around me, because thereis always an escape, mine being my entranceinto New York University. The only thingthat I needed to hold onto, and still holdonto, is the strength to keep on going withmy life to overcome all the obstacles thatcome before me. ¨My father didn’t let me go to school for threedays. I planned on running away from homebut I couldn’t do that to my brother. When I6


Grand Prize WinnerI W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .NestorAge: 21Graham WindhamDon’t Push People Away;Things Will Get BetterI can remember going to my first foster homein a beat up van with nothing but a dufflebag full of clothing. I was hoping and prayingthat wherever I was going was betterthan where I had just come from and that foronce in my life I could have a real motherand father, a brand new family who wouldlove me and make all my pain go away.I got out of the van and saw a nice littlehouse in suburban Queens. I was met outsideby what seemed like a nice, normal family:wife, husband, two sons, and a dog. I rememberthinking that it was all perfect. It tookonly until the worker was gone for my fantasyto die. The woman’s demeanor quicklychanged. After showing us to our rooms, shedidn’t talk to us for the rest of the day. Thefridges and cabinets had locks on them andeveryone had a key except me and my sister.They would lock the bathroom doors at nightso we couldn’t use them until they unlockedthem the next morning.None of them paid attention to us, and thekids seemed to live just to make our liveshell. They never missed an opportunity to letus know we weren’t wanted there; we werejust more furniture in the house. My sisterand I kept to each other until we were gonesix months later, scared and confused, notknowing what was coming next or if it wasgoing to be even worse.It was never different, home after home.They even separated me and my sister alongthe way because they could no longer placeus together. Our caseworker, Amy, wouldtell us better times were ahead; it just mighttake a while. But after a while, I didn’tbelieve her anymore. Eventually, I wound upat a residential treatment center for boys.After many meetings, it was decided that Ishould be adopted. At the time I rememberthinking it was a joke—nobody wanted teenagers.My new worker tried to encourageme by telling me that good things happen togood people. I thought she was a liar; I wasa good person and had experienced nothingI would deem good. But after many visitsand meetings, my worker told me my sister’smother wanted to take me in.I moved in with skepticism about what shemight try to do to me. But she never triedanything. She just mothered me, and in timeI came to call her mother. Last year, sheadopted me at the age of 19.After being with her for a while, I began todo speaking engagements with my sister’smother. I wanted to make sure no one elsehad an experience like I did, so I decided totell other kids and parents my life story sothey wouldn’t go wrong with the kids theytook in. My job was to talk to foster parentsand tell them my story, my pain, my uncertainties—everythingI possibly could to helpthem better understand these kids’ needs.I am grateful for all my workers did for meover the years. If anything, I would tell themthat they should tell kids to be cautious oftheir surroundings, but not push peopleaway. I would tell kids to not go in lookingfor a family but to let them find you. Andalways keep your head up, because sometimes,that’s all you have. ¨7


Special First Prize Winners (Excerpts)I W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .I H E L P B Y . . .A Helping Hand Can HealFekri, 20, Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan HouseI was born in Tunisia, the youngest child of four. Mymother was poor and my father was rich, and abusive.I often had to steal to eat. One day I got caught stealingand a lady paid for what I stole. Then she followed me tomy house and bought me from my mother for $100. I was5 years old.The lady who bought me took me to France and abusedme. She cut me and hit and burned me. I learned to stayaway from people and trust no one.At 9 years old, I came to America so damaged I stayed inmy room all day. One day the abusive lady came homeand broke a push broom on my back. She broke myknees, my elbows, and my ring fingers. She cut me andshocked me with electricity, bit me and then left.I crawled out of the house and passed out in the street. Apolice officer called an ambulance. I was in the hospitalfor a year and a half. Shortly after that, I entered fostercare, when I was 10. It’s a place I see now was a home forme and a stepping stone to a strong future.But it all did not start off that way. I was Muslim and Idressed differently, and many did not accept me. Certainstaff did not feed me, and kids teased me. I cried andstayed away from people. I did not want to share thepain of my past.When 9/11 happened, I was verbally abused and hit. Iasked the religion teacher if I could convert and becomeCatholic. We talked a lot. She told me that no one wouldknow my pain unless I acknowledged it. But she alsotaught me not to knock everyone for the pain that othersbrought on me.I wish I’d known sooner that sometimes you have tobreak out of your shell and be born again. I wish I’dknown that foster care had people who cared and couldhelp me become the social young man that I am now.Now I know that all people are not out to hurt me andthat I have to put out a hand for another hand to grab itand help. ¨Spreading SisterhoodTawana, 16, New York FoundlingSomething that I have done to make a positive impact onmy life was join Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). Our missionin this internship is to fight for women’s rights andequality throughout schools. Before GGE I only thoughtabout myself and that my opinion alone counted. I didnot take the time out to consider other people’s feelingsand I constantly made jokes on people’s gender orientationand more. When I joined GGE I learned to acceptpeople for who they are.Every meeting we have I feel that I’m becoming more ofthe feminist that I seek to be. I enjoy standing up for people’srights. I feel that everyone should have a choice inwhat they want in life and not be judged. I have learnedabout women who fought and continue to fight today forequality and women’s rights. I believe that fighting forrights will help improve the world’s outlook on sexualityand prevent discrimination.I am no longer silenced by others because I now knowmy opinion has an effect on someone’s life, just frombeing around my sisters at GGE. I continue to preventpeople in my school from saying discriminatory words.Even though sometimes a word may occasionally slipfrom my mouth, I understand the affect it may have onsomeone around me. I now learn to put myself on theopposite end of the conversation and see how it wouldfeel for me to hear hateful words, even if it is just a joke.Every day my vocabulary is becoming better because ofthe lack of obscene words that I was used to.In GGE we have built a sisterhood where we all continueto gain knowledge of what is going on around ustoday. Before GGE I felt that I would not be as bold asI am today. Sticking up for someone came natural tome, and now I also try and prevent the negative wordspeople say. In school I am continuously asked why I actdifferent. I say, “Because we should take into considerationthat other people have feelings.” I take what I havelearned from GGE and deliver this message to otheryouth my age, because we are the future and changestarts with us. Not Obama. ¨8


First Prize Winners (Excerpts)I W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .and just being there for one another. It is hard for me toaccept the fact that she is gone, but she is still in my hearthelping me through this rough experience.My mother will forever be in my heart. Therefore I do notuse her death as an excuse but as encouragement to stayfocused, do well in school, graduate and go to college.No matter what people do or say to discourage me, theycannot take away my education. That’s something I workhard for and I’m proud of it. ¨I W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .A Caring Foster Family WouldChange My LifeMichael, 16, Leake and Watts ServicesWhen I was placed in a new foster home, I assumed itwould be filled with the same old problems. I was wrong.My new foster mom, Mrs. W., was so supportive. Shewas a mother figure to me and my brother. Mrs. W waslike no one I’d ever known before.After a couple of weeks, I noticed my brother hadchanged. He was more open to talking to me and heseemed happier. We weren’t fighting all the time like weused to. Our relationship as brothers rebuilt and for that Iwas so happy. This was because of the way that the newfoster family communicated with my brother and me. Ithelped me believe that I would make it through what I’dthought was going to be a nightmare.I am now 16 and in my third year of high school, maintainingan “A” average. I now plan to go to college andmajor in English and history. It’s all because of Mrs. W.—her support, encouragement, and her belief in me. Sheunderstood what I was going through and helped createa new and improved me.I wish someone would have told me how much this experiencewas going to mature me and change my outlookon life. I wish I’d known how this experience was goingto let people help me on the road to excellence. Fostercare doesn’t always have to be negative as long as youhave people who care and you’re willing to accept theirhelp. ¨When You Give, You Also GetBrittany, 20, Forestdale, Inc.One day my RA told me about a program called Relay forLife, an organization that raises money for people withcancer. She wanted me to join her team and get communityservice hours. All semester, teams raise money andwhoever raises the most gets a prize. I thought, “Whynot?”Our fundraiser was a car wash and we made $200. I hadso much fun washing cars and meeting new people.Some people even donated money without getting theircar washed. I fulfilled my community service requirementsthat day, but I chose to stay in it for the long run.Relay for Life would email participants with stories offamilies going through the pain of losing someone whohad cancer, or struggling to keep someone with cancerin their life. It touched my heart and I felt so lucky thatno one in my life had been affected by cancer. I started towonder how it would feel, and I knew that I would wantpeople to help raise money for my loved one if I were intheir shoes.At the end of the competition they light candles in bagsto represent each person who has died from cancer. Then,at least one person from your team must walk aroundthe candles at all times. When I arrived, there were manyrows of paper bags on a big track field, one bag for everylost soul or person going through this terrible ordeal. Irealized then why it’s so important to live every minuteof your life as if it were your last. And why I shouldcherish those in my life and forgive those whom I dislikebecause any second may be their last. In the end, I didn’teven use my community service hours. I felt I’d beengiven enough already. ¨I W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .Youth in Care Can Go to CollegeVanessa, 19, Jewish Child Care AssociationWhen I entered care at 15, someone should have toldme that the system helps pay for college. I didn’t knowabout programs like ETV and FAFSA, or that my ownagency had scholarships. In the same breath I must admit11


First Prize Winners (Excerpts)I told her I was going away to a foster home and thatshe wouldn’t see me for a while. She looked at me withwatery eyes and said, “If I did something bad, tell me,but please don’t leave me mommy.” What topped itoff was that she was in the Bronx and I was moved toBrooklyn.But I made it happen; I saw Ruth every other day. Myother sisters all had their dads, so I knew they were safe.Foster care put me in a very dark place, but what coveredthe hole up and kept me strong was my sister Ruth. Toher I was everything perfect, just as long as I loved herhonestly. ¨I W I S H I K N E W T H A T . . .I Could Assert My RightsShantell, 19, Catholic Guardian Society and HomeBureauWhen I entered care, I wasn’t informed of my legal rights,and problems arose right away between me and staff.I became very uncomfortable there and had argumentswith staff about things like withholding my allowancefor no reason. It got to the point that they were even terminatingmy phone calls without probable cause. I feltlike a prisoner, and I felt singled out. But my voice wentunheard for months because I had no idea how to goabout telling anyone that I was miserable.One day I overheard another resident talking to her lawguardian. I listened to how she explained her problems. Ithen looked into who was my law guardian and how shecould help me. I met with her a couple weeks later andshe explained my legal rights. She also told me that whatI’d been experiencing was absolutely not tolerated in theagency. I am thankful for receiving that information justin time to make things better.I also wish I’d known that I would be placed in anunsupportive environment. On many occasions, I mentionedhow I loved acting and asked if the agency wouldpay for acting classes. My staff would tell me it was acrazy idea, that it was a “waste of time.” They would saythings like, “Just focus on your education.”Another time I wanted to run a marathon to fight breastcancer. “Don’t you have to be in shape to run a marathon?”one staff said. That made me feel really discouraged.I never registered for the marathon.Foster care has been the toughest experience of my life,and I regret not having a person I could really talk to. ButI am stronger now, and I have more positive things tolook forward to. ¨I H E L P E D B Y . . .Speaking Up to Stop the AbusersPatricia, 20, Jewish Child Care AssociationWhen I first arrived at the residential treatment center, Iheard from some of the other kids on campus that certainstaff would sleep with the children. I was disgusted, but Ifelt it wasn’t my place to say anything.About two weeks into my stay I got into a fight withanother girl. While the fight was being broken up I wassexually violated. A man who worked there grabbed mybreast from behind and tried to act as if he was restrainingme. The whole crowd saw me get violated.About a week later, the man approached me and askedme not to report what had happened. I called him apedophile and cursed his name. I wrote up a two-pagecomplaint that resulted in him getting fired. After that,I started to hear more stories about him touching othergirls in an inappropriate manner. He had not been disciplinedbefore because no one had ever reported him. I feltlike I’d put my foot down and maybe other girls would,too.Soon after, two more men were fired for having sexualrelations with minors. The administrators started toreach out to the kids, asking if they’d ever been touchedby staff. I feel like my incident had a domino effect. Theadministrators were appalled that this was happeningright under their noses, but some of the kids were afraidto speak up.I feel I was the voice for those kids who were scared totell the truth. I believe I made a positive impact on thatcampus because now they question the kids regularlyif someone has touched them wrong, and any gossipinvolving a resident and a staff is immediately investigated.¨13


Thank You tothe Adults WhoNominated thisYear’s WinnersMarisol Arroyo, Jewish Child Care AssociationEileen A. Bruno, Seamen’s Society for Children and FamiliesWrickford A. Dalgetty, Edwin Gould Services for Children and FamiliesLaurie Ann García, Greyston Children and Youth ServicesJohn Giambalvo, Access GED ManhattanLili Glauber, SCO Family of ServicesAriella Gutin, Jewish Child Care AssociationMeghan Huppuch, Girls for Gender EquityRebecca Ingber, Jewish Board of Family and Children ServicesRuth Joseph, Jewish Child Care AssociationMichael Keane, Leake and Watts ServicesTommie Levine, Queens Hospital CenterTatiana Morales, Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Inc.Cynthia Puello, Jewish Child Care AssociationCristina Romero, Legal Aid SocietyJeanne Shary, Cardinal McCloskey School and HomeWill Shepard, Jewish Child Care AssociationEllen Smith, Catholic Guardian Society and Home BureauSharon Smolkin, former teacherJohn Young, Legal Aid SocietyThank You tothe Agenciesthat ProvideServices to thisYear’s WinnersCardinal McCloskey Services: Thelicia, TravisCatholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau: ShantellCenter for Family Life in Sunset Park: AlmaCoalition for Hispanic Family Services: DolkarEdwin Gould Services for Children and Families: JustinForestdale, Inc.: Joenni, Ashley, BrittanyGraham Windham: NestorJewish Child Care Association: Hercules, Vanessa, Anairis, Viary, PatriciaLeake and Watts Services: MichaelNew York Foundling: TawanaRita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan House: FekriSCO Family of Services: DominiqueSeamen’s Society for Children and Families: SadeCelebrating 100 Issuesof the Youth Voice: 1993-2010Youth Communication/NY Center, Inc., 224 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10001 • www.youthcomm.org

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