The following is a true story written and shared by a young woman whose bravery knows no bounds. As you read Sandra’s story, remind yourself of the immense courage it required to not only live such a life of trauma and adversity, but how much it took to write it all down, accept the words as your truth and then be willing to share that truth with strangers. Thank you, Sandra, for rising above and continuing to reach for your dreams each and every day; for choosing joy and hope when it doesn’t come easy.
Sandra shared this story, her story, at a recent fundraiser for Family Care Network for the purpose of connecting her community members with FCNI’s services. She wanted to give a “face” to the people we serve. I hope you’ll agree with us when we say that the “face” Sandra paints is one of resilience, gratitude and generosity of spirit, which certainly does an exceptional job of demonstrating the heart of the children, youth and families in our care. They all have mended or mending hearts, and are eager to rewrite their life’s journey with restored hope for a better tomorrow.
My name is Sandra Gomez. I am 26 years old and a former foster youth. I have utilized many of the programs that Family Care Network offers, which have helped to shape me into the person I am now. I never thought I would have to experience being in foster care, but now I realize that all these hardships had a purpose, to break the cycle of abuse in my family.
My parents were engaged in a domestic violent relationship before I was even born. My earliest memory of being physically abused was at the age of 11 when my father beat me. That was the first time a social worker came to my home and my family became involved with the child welfare system. From then on, it was just me and my mom.
Becoming a teenager and living with a low-income, single mom, created a lot of stress in our relationship. Shortly after my dad was legally restricted from being in my life, my mom became physically and verbally abusive towards me. After one particularly abusive episode at the hands of my mom, I escaped from my mom’s sight and ran away. It was then that I began thinking if I should continue to live with my mom and deal with the physical and emotional abuse or look for help. I know I made the right choice when I looked for help because I didn’t want to live in those circumstances with my mother ever again. I remember crying and not knowing what was going to happen to my mother or myself. I didn’t have any idea what life would look like from now on but I knew I had to be strong for what was going to happen next.
My mother was arrested and I was picked up by a county worker. I had five minutes to pick up my belongings in a trash bag and the county worker didn’t have any idea if I was going to see my mother anytime soon. I was placed in an Emergency Shelter home overseen by Family Care Network. I felt lonely and was shocked that my mom was being arrested. And I blamed myself for tearing my family apart.
When I arrived to the first emergency shelter home, my foster parents were very nice and welcoming. But even still, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong there--or anywhere for that matter--so I would constantly runaway. During my time in care, I found it really difficult to connect with and trust others. I guarded myself for my own protection, that was my coping mechanism. Due to these walls of protection, I was never able to bond properly with my caregivers. I stayed in the emergency shelter home for a month until my county worker had a plan in place. The plan was to go back home to my mother and receive Wraparound services in order to continue to stay together. While we received wraparound, I was also acting out and getting in trouble at school, which lead to me being put on probation as well.
Wraparound and Therapeutic Behavioral Services were great programs and were very supportive to my mother and me. Our Wraparound [team] didn’t come into our home with the intention to change us but to support us in our goal to remain together as a family. We were doing so good that I already had a date set to be off probation and a date set to end our Wraparound services. My mother and I graduated from the Wraparound program. My mother was so proud of me and I was of her too. We both worked so hard to grow together with the goal to stay together forever.
We were finally on our own; my mother and I had no services and just a few more weeks of my probation. But shortly after our case closed, things went back to how they were before services. My mother became controlling and abusive. I didn’t recognize her and didn’t know what to do because our services closed out. I decided to runaway, as that was my primary coping skill. But this time I was in big trouble due to being in violation of my probation. And my time on probation was extended.
I was picked up and placed in Juvenile Hall until there was a spot open in the emergency shelter home and this time probation had to figure out a plan. I recall sitting in the courtroom when the judge announced I was officially a ward of the court and my mom’s [parental] rights were terminated. I could hear my mother crying and was so upset because she agreed she couldn’t keep me safe or have me in her home.
Due to the necessity of keeping me safe, I was placed in a group home where I graduated and was introduced to the Grizzly Youth Academy. Grizzly changed my life. I graduated from high school one year early and I applied for the Transitional Housing Program through Family Care Network and moved in shortly thereafter. I also received [financial support through] Transitional Age Youth-Financial Assistance Program (TAY-FAP) so I could attend Cuesta College and pursue my degree in criminal justice.
At the age of 18, I became pregnant. Since I didn’t have much family support, I didn’t know if I could raise my child. I decided to apply for the Transitional Housing Plus program, to ensure that I would have a safe and stable place to start out with my daughter. Choosing to be a part of the Transitional Housing program was the best decision I ever made! I was empowered to set goals for my life, supported in achieving them, and provided an opportunity to successfully launch out onto my own! Family Care Network also has a great mentoring program and I was lucky enough to be matched with someone who [has] continued to support me throughout the different phases of my life and is still part of my life today.
I am proud to share that I have maintained my own housing for the past five years, still drive and maintain the safe and reliable vehicle I was supported in purchasing, and I am raising my healthy and happy seven year old daughter with a different family experience! I am now employed as a Youth Partner for Family Care Network, where I get to give back on a daily basis to help support youth in the Transitional Housing programs who have had similar experiences to me.
The services I received through FCNI have been instrumental in my success as they will be for the youth who are currently receiving them. These services help families, and I am thankful to be a part of this cause. Thank you all for coming out and supporting FCNI, you all help make these programs possible!