As a young child, I would stay with my mother in motels where rats, some as large as cats, emerged from holes in the wall in search of food. At just 7 years old, I remember crying myself to sleep because I wanted to escape this environment.
That escape happened a few years later, when my grandmother reported my mother to Social Services. I then bounced between foster care and my grandmothers’ homes, experiences that proved to be almost equally demoralizing. The neglect and isolation that I experienced during these years should have slated me for failure. But that all changed when I was sent to a second foster home that provided me with what I had longed for all those years: a loving and supportive environment where I was able to overcome my self-doubt and learn to value myself and my education.
In this home, I was embraced by my foster mother. She enrolled me in Sylvan Learning Center, and I was given reading comprehension tests that revealed I had the reading ability of a third-grader. Because of the continual interruption of my education (I didn’t complete a full school year until seventh grade) my academic ability was well below average, with reading and comprehension abilities that were virtually nonexistant. Sylvan was a good opportunity, but my foster mother could afford only a few sessions. I was almost certain I would not be able to keep up with high school classes. My foster mother told me, “Learn what you can now, and learn what you missed later.” I did just that, and began to excel.
One day, soon after I arrived in her home, my foster mother’s daughter asked me what I wanted
to be when I grew up. I replied, “A lawyer, then senator, then president of the United States.” She then asked, “What is your G.P.A?” I was clueless, and asked, “What’s that?” After explaining what a G.P.A was, she said, “Well, we certainly have a lot of work to do to get you there.” At that moment, I felt safe, cared for, respected, and important—a stark contrast to years past spent in homes with caregivers who berated me.
The first foster caregiver I lived with abused me mentally, mocking my requests for help with homework and calling me “stupid” and “lazy.” At my request, social workers removed me from this home and I was eventually placed with my paternal grandmother. She, too, was verbally abusive. I ran away, feeling like society’s throwaway. When the police found me I was returned to the foster care system. Alone, confused, and dejected, I never imagined that a return to foster care would be the beginning of a new life for me.
The positive feedback I received from my new foster mother helped me to realize my potential. I became involved in many extra-curricular programs including The Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP) designed to enhance my academic performance and increase my class standing. Through ATDP, I attended a summer program at the University of California, Berkeley. For three summers, I studied social science, marine biology, and law. Though attending college seemed to be an unrealistic goal because of my past, I was accepted to the University of San Francisco.
As a student at USF, I traveled and studied abroad in South Africa where I worked with street children who suffered from HIV and AIDS. I witnessed first hand the amazing grace these youths possessed in spite of their hardships. My experience as a foster child has taught me the value and importance of being available to others, and I was able to inspire these children by sharing my own story of not letting my past predict my future.
I am now an advocate for youth in the foster care system, and am thriving academically and socially at USF. Had I not been placed with my second and final foster mother, the idea of attending college would have remained only a dream. I was once a child who suffered from self-loathing. Now, I am a college student with a strong sense of self and dreams for the future.