Monthly Archives: June 2013

Little Orphan Annie

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

izzie

X-man and Izzie. Look at Izzie’s beautiful curls!

A month ago, Isabella and X-man watched the musical Annie for the first time. I was amazed at how enthralled Isabella, our 3 year old, was over this movie. She asked for it to be played for three or four nights in a row. Since I don’t want her watching TV for hours each evening, we broke up the replay into several different nights. Each night I thought she might pick a different movie, but she adamantly wanted to pick watching Annie where she had left off the night before.

Now, countless showings later, Annie is now in the running for “best movie,” competing and perhaps even surpassing the likes of Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.  Isabella now goes around singing the songs, “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

Today, when I asked her what movie she would like to watch, she said “I want to watch the girl, Annie.” I finally decided to ask her what she loves so much about the movie.  Isabella replied “Annie found a mommy and a daddy, and I have a mommy and a daddy.”

Enough said.

Only three students survived.

Guest post by Janet Blair, DCF SunCoast Refugee Services. As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20, we will share a few stories from local refugees & former refugees about their experiences. This story is about Elida Mujic, Client Relations Coordinator at DCF and former Bosnian refugee.

The Class of 1993 in Gorazde, Bosnia—only three of these students survived

The Class of 1993 in Gorazde, Bosnia—only three of these students survived

Elida Mujic is packing for what should have been her 20th high school reunion.  Except that a few months after this picture was taken, in April of 1992, a war erupted in Bosnia that changed everything for Elida and her classmates. Instead of graduating side by side, most of these students lost their lives in an ethnic war that left approximately 100,000 people dead from Muslim, Croatian and Serbian backgrounds.

Elida is just 17 years old in the photo above, standing in the front row, second to the right. Ironically she is wearing a blue jacket with an American flag on it. She had no idea that soon after this picture was taken she would be fleeing her country under an assumed name and that years later end up as a refugee in the United States.

For her, the war started on a day that Elida says was just like any other day, April 12th of 1992. She was on the school bus going home that afternoon when suddenly the driver stopped due to a barricade in the road. The students ended up being held hostage on the bus for over three hours. None of their parents knew where they were. Eventually the students were released to go home and learned that a war had broken out across their country. Her home was never safe again. From that point on there were always grenades going off and guns shooting all around them. It was particularly unsafe for young women, who were being taken to camps and sexually assaulted.

To protect her, Elida’s parents found a way for her to be smuggled out of Bosnia across the border to Serbia, She had to pretend to be Serbian, change her name and pretend not to be who she was. Serbian friends of the family took her in as their daughter when she changed her identity. She had to get rid of anything that identified her as a Muslim, even her own diary. Then the Serbian family came and took me to their home pretending she was their daughter while her parents stayed behind. She became a refugee in Serbia under the name of Bojana when she was 17.

At the time, Elida didn’t understand why her parents made her leave – in fact she was very angry with them. It’s only now as a parent of two children that she understands the difficult decision her parents made ended up saving her life. Now she feels blessed to have made it and to have the opportunity to make something of her life. She realized that many others were never given that chance. Some had such short lives and were taken way too soon. She saw babies and 5-year-old neighbor children killed. She saw children who woke up to find their mother dead.

Elida, her husband Damir and children Armand and Ariana on a trip to Ellis Island in 2010

Elida, her husband Damir and children Armand and Ariana on a trip to Ellis Island in 2010.

So Elida’s actual graduation day was held away from her family and friends in the neighboring country of Serbia in 1993 alongside students she had only known for nine months. Now, 20 years later, Elida is going home to Gorazde, Bosnia for a bittersweet class reunion with those who should have been her fellow graduates in June of 1993.  Through using social media like Facebook, the survivors have been able to locate at least 60 people from several schools who would have been graduating seniors in 1993.  On June 29th these sixty survivors will come together from the places all over the world where they scattered during the war, and commemorate a graduation that should have taken place. It will be a celebration for those who survived and a time of remembering those who are missing.

For Elida, the trip will also be an opportunity to share her history with her children, 15-year-old Armand and 10-year-old Ariana. Although Elida became a U.S. citizen in 2006, she wants her children to feel connected to her home country and her refugee experience so they know where they came from and what brought them here. You never know what a person has lived through and what made them come to America. World Refugee Day is a chance every year to recognize refugees who have been through so much. The refugee programs touch so many who are looking for a new beginning here in this country.

YOU helped the kids win!

Guest Post by Irene K. Rickus, President and CEO of The Children’s Home. The Children’s Home strengthens communities in the Tampa Bay area through programs that support, serve, and protect children and their families.

Last April, The Children’s Home, a community for children in foster care, was nominated as a charity to receive room makeovers from IKEA. Because many of the children who come to The Children’s Home have difficulty with emotional self-regulation, the cottages often show wear and tear much more quickly than a typical home.  Books get thrown at walls, curtains get torn down and furniture gets destroyed.

Through the marvels of social media and our partners, the kids won! Every living room in each of the cottages received a new interior design. In addition, IKEA surprised the children with brand new bedding for each child.Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us to win. You made such a huge difference in the kids’ lives.

Here are the children are seeing their room for the first time. They were so excited!

Here are the children are seeing their room for the first time. They were so excited!

Stylish, kid-friendly furniture.

Stylish, kid-friendly furniture.

Check out the innovative, attractive way IKEA came up with to keep TVs safe in rowdy living rooms. The woman standing next to the TV is the IKEA employee who nominated CHI for the makeover – we are so grateful!

Check out the innovative, attractive way IKEA came up with to keep TVs safe in rowdy living rooms. The woman standing next to the TV is the IKEA employee who nominated CHI for the makeover – we are so grateful!

The children made a thank you sign for the IKEA staff. Each child traced their own hand and wrote a thank you message that was attached to the sign.

The children made a thank you sign for the IKEA staff. Each child traced their own hand and wrote a thank you message that was attached to the sign.

 

 

Lunch with Mom

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Photo of lunch

Lunch time! From left to right: Isabella, Daniella, Summer, Denise and X-man

Yesterday Summer and I had lunch with her mother. As we munched on artichoke dip and tortilla chips, we talked about the past and about the fond memories of their life here in Dalton, Georgia. We were just passing through on vacation and wanted to stop into town to reminisce. In her vulnerability she mentioned how close she had felt to her mother during the time they lived here. Summer ordered the ribs.  I ordered corn dogs and hamburgers for the kids and a mandarin chicken salad for myself. Summer’s mom, Paulette, didn’t order anything. Not because she wouldn’t have wanted to, but because she was there in spirit only; she passed away four years ago.

Leaving on summer vacation the day after X-man was discharged from the hospital, we had just visited for several days with Summer’s youngest sister, who now lives with her uncle in Georgia. As we were driving in the northern part of the state, not far from the Tennessee border, Summer said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we passed through Dalton.” I remarked that after having driven through almost the entire state, what was the likelihood that we would happen upon her childhood town in the last 30 miles before we crossed into Tennessee?

But as luck, or destiny, or happenstance, would arrange it … we came upon Dalton! Of course, we HAD to drive the route through town. Summer reminisced continually about what a happy time that it was for her.  Not remembering exactly what years they were here, she estimates that she was between 8 and 10 years old.  Passing by a school, she said, “The best school I ever went to was in this town.” She commented that she wished her father hadn’t made them move back to Miami, where they ended up homeless shortly afterwards.

Having lived in the same house for the two years they were in Dalton, Summer spoke of the uncommon stability that her family found here. Her mother was working as a waitress at Applebees. As we drove down the hill and around the next bend, there sat the Applebees. We went in to eat lunch.

As we sat in our booth, Summer remembered the times that her mother occasionally brought her to work, pointing out where she would sit and color while her mom finished her shift. We spoke, like we often do, about all of her mother’s good qualities. But this day, we didn’t shift the conversation to the painful. Summer just wanted to remember the good, “the years in this town were ones in which I can remember feeling close to my mom.”

At Applebees, one of the waitresses was particularly friendly and took the time to say hello to all the kids. She got them extra crayons, and walked Xavier a few feet down to the big party room so he could see it. Summer commented that her mother worked as a waitress and how friendly her mom was with people, “just like our waitress.”

As we drove out of Georgia and into Tennessee, Summer mentioned how happy it made her to not only go back to a town of her childhood, but also to the fond memories: “It was good to remember.” She also mentioned how about what a good place she was in her life right now, and how happy she was to be where she is. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The best thing that we can do for our children is to give them the space to talk, to mourn, and to reminisce.  Feeling safe and secure in her life right now, Summer often speaks of the chaos that was once her life. But it takes time to develop the perspective that is lacking when one is not only a child, but a child in survival mode. It needs to be done at each child’s own individual pace.

As Summer remembers and talks about the pain and trauma that she’s endured in her past, it is my hope that she can move through it and find peace. I am not her therapist, I am her mom. I wholeheartedly wish that I could have spared her from her painful past and I tell her so. We have sometimes cried together at the horribleness of it all. Other times we respond with humor at the irony and craziness that was her life. But it is my hope that as Summer reflects on her past, now secure in her present life, that she will know unequivocally that her past does not define her future.

But for today we focused on the happy memories. In the past, Summer and I have felt that her mom has been with us in heart when we’ve gone to Denny’s to celebrate her mom’s birthday or have had an in-depth conversation about her. But there was something extraordinarily special about today. Today, Summer was able to go to a tangible place where fun and happy memories took place. She was able to vividly remember, and miss, and love the mother she had while she lived here. What a special gift she was given yesterday!