No one’s path in life is straight, without mountains to climb and valleys to cross. For foster youth, their mountains often appear much too early in life--oftentimes at birth. And without a community to look out for them, to help them weather and cross the difficult terrain that surfaces through not fault of their own, they can be left to wander, uncared for, for life. Too often, these individuals become victims of their circumstances, suffering cyclical consequences of a lifepath they never got to choose.
For people serving in foster care and transitional age youth services, we strive to give these youth a better opportunity to weather life’s up and downs, and to rise above their circumstances instead of being defined by them. It’s about giving them the stability they need in order for them to have the opportunities of life that everyone should be entitled to--opportunities to succeed in their academics, to build vital relationships, to learn life skills, and to choose and pursue a purposeful career. Below is the personal story of one of our youth who not only was given these opportunities, but used them to fly high above the lifepath she was originally given. Here is Destiny’s story.
I originally entered foster care when I was 11. My mother was a drug addict who gave birth to me at 15. She eventually gave custody of me to her father and left us to live her own life. During the time that I was in the care of my grandfather, I was sexually and physically abused. I then was moved around a lot and finally placed in the care of another family member. Eventually, my mom came back and regained custody of me. I was then placed into foster care because it was discovered that my mom, my three younger sisters and I were all living in a motel room in a totally neglectful situation. I didn’t go to school, and instead spent my days selling drugs and smoking weed with my mom. When I was removed from her, I was placed in four different foster homes before I settled into a great foster home that ended up becoming my guardian family here on the Central Coast.
When I was 16, I joined the Independent Living Program (ILP). I met with Grace, my ILP worker, monthly, and attended a lot of events because they were so helpful providing me with resources and networking opportunities. I started receiving support from the Transitional-Aged youth Financial Aid Program (TAY-FAP) and got textbook services when I began taking classes at Cuesta College. ILP was great because I got to actually sit down with Grace, go through the resources that were available, and start to find out where I had gaps in my learning and independent living skills. I needed to learn more about resources available to me and how to budget according to my real needs. It was so helpful to meet with Grace and spend time talking. It has been a special gift to have a relationship with someone who is consistent and helpful. When I turned 18, I had already learned so many skills that I was able to find an apartment on my own and move out of my guardian family’s home, continuing to work two jobs in addition to attending classes at Cuesta College.
Last fall, Grace told me about a job opening here at the Family Care Network for a Youth Partner position. I applied and got the job! Transitioning from waitressing and working multiple jobs to get by to to being a professional and working in a large and respected company has been so cool. I absolutely love my job as a Youth Partner. I’m only 19, and I’m pretty sure that I’m the youngest person working at FCNI. It has been an amazing opportunity to work alongside all of the people who have helped me so much. Most of my work here is so much fun. I get to support youth when they’re having a rough day, and I am able to relate to them when they’re struggling. It’s about 50/50 -- 50% fun stuff like teaching life skills, but also 50% hard conversations and working through hard times. I love that I can relate to the youth I work with so well. When I meet with them for the first time, we already have so much common ground so it’s easy to build rapport. The youth I work with have always been so receptive to building a relationship so it’s been easy to connect and quickly move forward into building lots of great life skills together. They know that I’m not going to try to push something on them that isn’t necessary for life. There is so much in my past and even present that youth can relate to, and I love sharing my life with them. I’ve always been friendly and outgoing, so it's nice to work with youth who are shy and help them open up. I’m also totally okay with sitting in silence and letting youth have their awkward silences and space when it’s needed. Either they're going to talk to you about every single detail of their life, or they're not going got talk to you at all, and I’m alright with that.
At Family Care Network, I’m building great professional skills and learning how to help people, which is such a great experience that will help prepare me for so much in life. I want to go into nursing and eventually work as a traveling nurse, so right now I’m doing my prerequisite classes for nursing in addition to my full-time job here at FCNI. I think I’ll be a great nurse because I’m a people person and I don’t mind talking to strangers and getting involved in uncomfortable situations. I know how to get through hard times and can bring that experience to the people I serve. I see myself traveling around the US in the future helping people, and maybe eventually all around the world. As I pursue nursing, I look forward to getting my Bachelor’s degree in the future, continuing to utilize the amazing support I have through TAY-FAP. Career counseling has been good for me to really help me move past my current situation and move forward, and has also helped me get involved and give back to my community.
Through my years of experience with Family Care Network, I’ve noticed that a primary value is meeting youth and families where they’re at. FCNI teams aren’t ever pushing their agenda, and they’re present every step of the journey especially when clients are at their lowest and need the most help. I am privileged to be a part of an agency that can work out of the box. We’ll be there next week, we’ll be there next month, when they’re up and when they’re down, and we’ll always help people meet their goals. We’re working towards client's goals as much as they are, and that’s something I know first-hand!
As a former foster youth, and with the youth I work with, I want to see foster youth and former foster youth become better integrated and their situation more normalized within our community. I would like to see foster youth become more included and less stigmatized, and for everyone to become better educated about the amazing hearts, incredible resiliency and huge potential within the youth who have been through the system. I especially want our Central Coast community to give foster youth a chance, to believe in them and be the community that urges and empowers them forward into greatness!