The eyes of twenty-three children

image of a persons eyes Guest post by Emily Meadows

At 15, a part of me died, the part that was inherently selfish and conceited. In that empty space grew a form of myself who was constantly looking out for the wellbeing of others, forgoing my desires for the needs of the children we welcomed into our home. When I was 15, my parents became foster parents.

This was a very strange decision on their part, seeing as they were two years from turning 40 and their two biological children were already teenagers. But God works in strange ways. Thus began our family’s journey into the depths of the foster care system and the hidden world of social work.

For a very long time, it was hard to decide whether or not I was going to be directly involved in the lives of these children. At some point though, the heart of God and the love of Christ took over. Every moment I spent with these children was a blessing, a burst of purples and lime greens and pinks, radiating with joy, excitement, and perhaps most importantly, hope and safety on their part.

It was a blessing in disguise, and those moments were some of my happiest. Most nights ended with me helping the children we had taken into our home to learn how to spell, or how to write a complete sentence. One night in particular, our oldest child came into my room and asked me about something her classmate had said.

“Emily, this kid in my class said today that he doesn’t believe God works miracles.” I set my anatomy textbook aside and invited her to sit beside me, “What do you mean? What were the exact words he said?” He said that he believes in God, and that God created the world. “Well, what do you think about it?” I don’t think he’s right, because if God didn’t still do really cool work, me and my sister wouldn’t be here with you, Kate, Aunt Jennifer and Uncle John.”

But at the end of every child’s stay, it never got easier to say goodbye. In fact, I believe it got harder. Every child seemed to assimilate into our family faster. Their backgrounds almost forced them to, because for the first time in a very long time these children felt loved and completely safe.

I looked into the eyes of twenty-three children in the past five years and I have felt my heart break twenty-three times. But thankfully, not every story has a heart wrenching ending, and not every child leaves. Three years in, I stood in a courtroom before a judge, crying once again, at the end of a chapter in a child’s life. Three years later, he was not just another foster child.

He was my brother — a tried and true Meadows — forever and for always.

H.O.P.E: Hold On Possibilities Exist

Guest post by Dana Foglesong, recovery and integration specialist in the DCF Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

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There was a time in my life I felt my only options were death or a miserable existence; death seemed more appealing. I struggled to maintain a life in the community after being diagnosed with a mental illness. My pain was so deep that I had lost all hope. Hope is a powerful, yet tricky thing.  Hope is a necessary motivator to take personal responsibility for your life, to overcome obstacles, and to move forward.

Hope has a way of building momentum to push us through even the darkest days and roadblocks in our lives. A spark of hope was lit within me when I had the opportunity to work with a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist as part of my treatment. My peer specialist struggled with similar intense emotions and experiences, but was living successfully in recovery with a family, job and home. He was living proof that possibilities existed for my life despite a diagnosis. Through his support, encouragement, and strengths based coaching, I was able to reclaim my life.

Today, hundreds of people in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions work within our systems as peer specialists. I am one of them. We are often on the front lines of engaging individuals who have been labelled difficult to reach. We see the person first, not the illness. We help our peers focus on their resiliency instead of fragility. We provide support from the perspective of having shared similar life experiences and intimately understand the pain, loss and desperation those experiences bring. We are able to say with confidence, “I am the evidence that you can recover, so have hope and hold on.”

During Recovery Month, my hope is that we start changing the narrative about people living with mental health and substance use challenges. Recovery is achievable no matter the person or condition. The evidence is all around us. Peer Specialists are just one example. Perhaps you are someone who has overcome great challenges related to mental health or addiction issues. If so, I encourage you to share your story. Your story of recovery may be what sparks hope in someone else to keep fighting for a better future. If you are someone who is lacking hope, I encourage you to reach out for support. In the midst of the storm it can be easy to believe the lie that we are alone and that no one cares.

The truth is there is hope, so hold on because possibilities exist.

I’m living proof

Guest post by Wesley Evans    

Wesley Evans PhotoI was once paralyzed with fear and hopelessness. It is common for those living with mental illness to live a life without hope. I spent years trying new medications, along with a string of doctors, fading in and out of various programs, never engaged or inspired. Not being able to hold down a job, I was eventually told to apply for Social Security Disability because it was likely that I would not be able to work again. By this time I had resigned myself to the thought and belief that this was how my entire life was going to be. I had given up the shred of hope that existed in my youth.

After years on Social Security and an unstable life, I found a community support group for people like myself, living with a mental illness. I suddenly found myself surrounded by my peers. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be well and move forward in their lives. After finding and attending the support group weekly, along with the right medications, I began to make progress. I found that along with them I began to improve. I began to see hope after years of hopelessness. Little did I know I was laying the foundations of a solid support system.

In this network of my peers, I found an opportunity to help others who were living the life I had lived. In 2006 I was among the first Certified Recovery Peer Specialists in the State of Florida.  For nearly 10 years I have been working in a field that I love, assisting others who were trapped and struggling to navigate the mental health system, like myself. I have found a passion, a purpose, to help others who live with mental illness and to be a voice for the voiceless. I have built a great life for myself, one that I am proud of.

Recovery from mental illness is possible. I’m living proof!


Only now do I understand

Guest post by Mary Bowers. Ms. Bowers is a volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Tallahassee Affiliate.
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My daughter Brook ended her life at the age of 31, just days before the 15th anniversary of her high school boyfriend’s death by suicide.

At the time, 16-year-old Brook had insisted no one understood what she was going through — the grief, the guilt, and the shame. Only now do I understand.

Two weeks after Brook’s funeral, I went back to work. When the longing to see her just one more time was more than I could bear, I took a sick day or two. There was a void that filled my heart and many unanswered questions consumed me.

After a few months had passed, I began attending grief support groups and I continue to do so today. Participating in those support groups with other survivors of suicide loss — the fostering of trust and understanding — made the difference. They knew what I needed when they gave me a sense of hope and helped me preserve my dignity.

Only one in four survivors seek help after the suicide of a loved one, and when they do, often times many months or years have passed. Forty-nine percent of survivors of suicide loss consider killing themselves. But healed survivors can find meaning in their lives by contributing to the community by helping others, especially those who have confronted similar losses.

This lesson is very important and together we can spark a meaningful change focused on suicide postvention.

With the Inaugural Bluebird Run and Walk for Brookie B, we hope to ignite a coordinated postvention program to support the bereaved and prevent further suicides. NAMI-Tallahassee has started the conversation. We offer you the opportunity to join us in our compassionate journey. For Bluebird Run and Walk for Brookie B information see

To get involved in NAMI-Tallahassee’s suicide prevention efforts, contact her at If you are in crisis or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24/7.

DCF Renews Commitment to Serving Florida’s Vulnerable

“The work of our department is challenging. We are the safety net for Florida’s most vulnerable children and families. But with the challenges of our work come great rewards. Our vision is this – to deliver world-class and continuously improving service at the level and quality that we would demand and expect for our own families.” — Secretary Mike Carroll