Yards After Contact

Guest Post By Brittany GardenerBrittany Gardener

The Unconquered Scholars Program at Florida State University has been a tremendous blessing in my life. I’ve been around since the program’s inception five years ago, and I’ve witnessed the program’s tremendous growth and impact it has had on its students and the community. To use a football metaphor, every individual must maximize his or her “yards after contact.”

Life has its struggles and hurts, but I’ve learned along the way that even in the pain of life, there are yards to be gained. Our interpretations of events and our responses to them become the ideas that define us.

As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that we all face unique challenges and hardships. We are all on our own in this world, but the thing that most connects us is our stories and experiences. We can all admit that you don’t begin to come into the full knowledge of what you’re made of until you’ve had some encounters that leave you with no other choice but to be strong.

Each one of us can look at ourselves as players on the football field of life. Yards after contact are the yards a player gains after the player is initially hit. When I think of a running back, I think of the focus he must possess in order to gain yards after being hit by defensive players. I think of his relentless drive in spite of all the hits he takes. The running back is always running with aim; he is running to secure a first down that will ultimately lead him and his team to scoring a touchdown. Gaining that first down may seem like an insignificant accomplishment, but it is a small victory that contributes toward the ultimate goal of winning the game.

The ball is our purpose. The ball is our future. The ball is what Unconquered Scholars have held onto for so long. Some of my program peers were in foster care, others were wards of the state, or homeless. As for myself, I was in relative care. In the program, there are plenty of situations in which defeat was calling – challenges that were trying to snatch the ball out of our hands. Each Unconquered student has played the role of a running back. We’ve taken some hard hits; we’ve even had to stiff-arm some pretty scary situations. If we had stopped running, then we would have lost possession. We had to run with stamina and power because our future depended on it.

When I reflect on my own story, I think of my initial hit when my mother passed away unexpectedly, so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I was just a freshman in high school. I had to be my own parent and take care of myself in all respects. One day when I was at school, I intentionally avoided my peers so that they wouldn’t see me crying. I felt myself breaking down inside. I raised my hand so that I could be excused. I felt alone; I felt as if no one understood the pain I was dealing with. I started to cry uncontrollably – the kind of tears that only come from the worst pain deep within. But in that very moment, I heard in my spirit a voice reassuring me that in a little while, things would get better.

Then I realized, life is about the small victories, that is, the yards you gain when you are experiencing adversity. I, for one, am so glad that I kept running. I’m so glad I had the courage to stiff-arm my hardships and to see beyond the obstacles. Through my mother’s death, I learned the importance of perseverance and what “yards after contact” really means. I advanced the ball because, unbeknownst to me, the opportunity to attend Florida State University would be only a few yards down the field. These extraordinary students shared in this video where they started on the field and where they are now because of Unconquered and the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (C.A.R.E.).

VIDEO: The Truly Unconquered –  From Homeless Youth to College Graduate

Thank goodness all the other students in the program also advanced the ball so that Unconquered could open up a wide hole for us to run through. A hole was made by this program that allowed us to gain those tough yards. We kept on running with our future in mind and our purpose in our hands. Unconquered has been an invaluable support system for each of us. Without such a resource, our lives would in all likelihood have taken a drastically and tragically, different turn. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Unconquered Scholars Program, the C.A.R.E. Program, and our beloved Florida State.

I realized three years ago that attending college was going to be one of the most significant life transitions I would ever undergo. I knew the weight I would have to bear as a first-generation college student and as a student who had been in relative care. I did not know how I was going to pay for college, let alone what to expect once I arrived. Today, I look back at my initial hit. Today I look at where I started on the field. Today, I look at the yardage that has been gained by each and every student in this program. We’re not just running for ourselves; we are running for the future generation of students who will come after us.

In our lives, there were plenty of situations in which DEFEAT was once calling, CHALLENEGES that were trying to impede our date with destiny. But it took only ONE opportunity, ONE door opening, ONE yard- the Unconquered Scholars Program – to demonstrate what is possible when students are handed the right tools to go into battle against what seem like insurmountable circumstances.

In Unconquered, there are students who have not only dreamed, but have fought the good fight as well. Students who have had to ride through dark clouds, at times, unable to see the road ahead. I am talking about students who have managed to gain yards after contact in spite of life’s constant blows. I hope you can see and feel just how much strength, determination, capability, and resilience abound in this program.

For more information on the Unconquered Scholars Program, visit http://care.fsu.edu/USP or contact Lisa Jackson, Assistant Director of the Unconquered Scholars Program at FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement at lisa.a.jackson@fsu.edu or (850) 644-0120.

Brittany Gardener graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing and currently serves in DCF’s Office of Civil Rights.

 

February is Black History Month

picture of sibling groupFebruary is Black History Month. This month, it is important to take the time to reflect on the contributions of African Americans across the world. As part of this reflection, DCF will recognize 28 amazing African-American children who are available for adoption each day this month at www.adoptflorida.org.

At any given point, there are approximately 800 children who are available for adoption in Florida. Although African Americans make-up only 16 percent of Florida’s population, African-American children make up 39 percent of children in the child welfare system. Research shows that African-American children remain in foster care longer as well. These children all share a common dream – they want to be loved and become a part of a family where they can thrive, trust, and grow up to reach their full potential and accomplish their dreams.

This month, the Department of Children and Families and Explore Adoption will highlight 28 Days of Amazing Children. The campaign showcases one African-American child or sibling group available for adoption every day in February. To see today’s child or biographies and videos for all of the amazing children available for adoption, visit: www.adoptflorida.org.

Project Everyday Hope

Posted by Aime KalangwaPerson crouching down next to refugee
Co-Founder

My story helps illustrate my reasons for recently starting my organization, “Everyday Hope,” which aims to assist orphaned refugee children.

I am a refugee from DR Congo in Africa. I have been living in the United States since 20ll. I was an asylum seeker living as a refugee in Uganda for three years until I was resettled to the U.S. and provided with foster parents and an education. I lost my parents when I was l4-years-old to rebels who targeted my father because he was a government soldier and they wanted confidential government documents from him. I watched rebels torture and murder him before they killed my family one by one each day. Because of some government documents, I lost my parents, three sisters and five brothers. I survived with my younger brother. After that, my brother and I left our hometown with only the clothes on our backs and no idea where we were going.

After a few weeks walking in the jungle, we found ourselves in Uganda. Once we were in Uganda, I was sick, hungry, and hopeless for the future. I didn’t know where to start, or where to go for help. I didn’t even know what being a refugee meant. I had no family and no friends. I was in a new country that used a different language. At that time, I could only hope to find safety. At this point, I did not know the UN Refugee Agency existed, nor did I know how to access the protection they provided. There was nobody in Uganda to guide me through the process. I was homeless in the city since I didn’t know anything about the refugee camp. I pushed myself and was able to complete the process myself but it was really hard and there were many challenges. At that time I needed food, shelter, safety, as well as education, hope, affection and counselling services, but I did not receive any of them. I wanted to be treated as other children were being treated but I was not.

Eventually, through the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS and the Refugee Law Protect, RLP, I was lucky to access UN refugee protection. After 3 years, that protection helped me with third world country resettlement to the US. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops helped me in Florida to get foster parents and to pay for my education.

I still ask myself, what about those who are not as strong as I was to get up and fight for themselves? What happens to those who are sick, hungry, and hopeless, especially those who do not know how to access the process like I had? I was lucky to be resettled, but I do not think life should be based on luck. There are many orphaned refugee children who are dying in the streets in Uganda because they do not have anyone to guard them, show them how to register as a refugee, and access the help they need.

“Everyday Hope” was founded to help orphaned refugee children who arrive in Uganda so they may initiate the process for registration and learn how to access protection. The program also helps to also identify and verify those children who qualify for help. This project aims to help refugee kids who do not have other options to get off the streets where they are vulnerable to prostitution, violence and, in some cases, death. We want to offer them some everyday hope.

To learn more about Everyday Hope, please visit www.everydayhopeproject.org or email
aime1226@gmail.com.

10 promises to you

Posted by adoptive motherMother with Judge and adoptive son

Dear Son,
As I sit at my desk writing this letter, I realize this is the most difficult, scariest, and most exciting thing I have ever done. I am scared because I don’t know how to write a letter, nor can I write a letter, that assures you that everything will be okay. I am not going to pretend that our lives will suddenly become easy when the adoption is finalized. Nor can I tell you that your fears and self-doubts will suddenly go away. I can guarantee that we will continue to have our ups and downs as we discover new things and learn to be a family. I do know that I love watching you grow and adapt to your new world. I am so happy because I know that even during difficult times we will always be a family, because you are my special gift from God! My angel boy! I have chosen to spend my life with you because I love you!!! I cannot imagine my life without you in it. No matter what happens… you get to stay! You are a part of me. You are my son and I love you more than the waves are in the sea. I have not only built a home for you but I have prepared a place in my home, my heart, and my life for you! I am your mommy and here are my promises to you.

My 10 promises to you:
1. I promise to always love you.
2. To have fun with you!!!
3. To admit when I am wrong…and you know there are times that I am wrong.
4. To respect you!
5. To trust you!
6. To give you freedom, space and the time you need to come to terms with your worries!
7. To worry about you and pray for you always.
8. To forgive you!!
9. To help you find your dreams and let you live them!
10. To be here for you…ALWAYS!!!!

What I expect from you:
1. To be a kid!
2. To always try your best….even when it’s hard and you don’t want to!
3. To let me help you…even when it’s hard and you are afraid to trust!
4. To not give up…even when it’s hard and you want to!
5. To always keep your heart open to our family…I need you.

What I am sure of:
I have chosen you and our jouney begins today!

Mommy.

Victory through faith and family

Adam and Shannon Sawyer and family

Healthy Families participants Adam and Shannon Sawyer and family visit Tallahassee to meet with members of the legislature and share how Healthy Families helped their family.

Guest post by The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Healthy Families Florida is a nationally-accredited family support and coaching program that helps parents provide the safe and stable environments children need for healthy growth and development. The program has proven to be highly successful in preventing child abuse and neglect. Healthy Families participants Shannon and Adam Sawyer share their experience.

When we enrolled in Healthy Families, Adam was incarcerated and fighting drug addiction. I was pregnant and bouncing between family members looking for a place to sleep. We were without jobs, without a home, and without much hope for our future.

Then I met Joan, our Healthy Families Support Worker. With her guidance, I learned positive ways to deal with stress and how to be the best mom I could be, even when times were tough.

When Adam was released from prison, he was connected to a residential rehab program. We knew that most addicts have a low rate of success and that we would face a lot of challenges when he came home for good. Joan helped us set goals for when he got out. It has been hard work, but I’m happy to say he has been sober for 3 years now.

We wanted a place of our own, so Joan taught us how to save money. Within five months we had saved enough to move into our own place with our children. Our family was doing much better but we knew we had a long way to go. Joan helped us get job training and today we both have good jobs.

Healthy Families also helped us become better parents to our children. Having little ones is tough, even when things are going well. Joan showed us how to discipline our children in positive ways, how to play with them and how to help them learn.

She helped us improve our own relationship, too. We learned how to communicate with each other, how to set goals and achieve them together.

We wanted to have a better life, and Healthy Families helped make that possible. They believed in us when no one else did. Now our family is stable and our children are thriving. We are so grateful for Healthy Families.

To learn more about Healthy Families Florida, voluntary program for expectant parents and parents of newborns, visit www.HealthyFamiliesFla.org.