Category Archives: Foster

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.

 

Story Behind the Adoption – Never too late

two girls sitting on sidewalkGuest post by Gigi Kean, Adoptive mother and teacher

“I met Maci at the end of her 8th grade year. She came to the high school where I work, to tour in preparation for her freshman year. Maci was well known by everyone in the special education department because of her story. We knew Maci was an orphan, her parents died when she was young. At the beginning of her high school career, Maci lived with an aunt and by the beginning of her sophomore year that relationship ended, and Maci went into foster care. I knew she was in a group home but I thought her life improved after she went into care and never really saw her as the type of kid who wanted to be adopted. Maci did seem better but she had her low moments and those of us who cared about her were there for her to help her pick up the pieces when she came out of it.

One day in October I had a conversation with her. She told me she had legally changed her plan from adoption to extended foster care. I was shocked because it was the first time I had ever heard that she had wished to be adopted. I actually thought that someone else was in the process of adopting her. Stunned, I asked her why she had changed it and she went into a litany of reasons; none of them being that she no longer wanted to be a part of a family. Essentially, Maci had given up hope. I can’t explain what happened but something inside of me felt like a switch that had been flipped. I had known this girl for more than two years, but it was as if I was seeing her for the first time. I knew at that second, she would become my daughter. I just needed to figure out how to make it happen.

Teenagers are big and some may think they’re scary because they have “big” problems, but the need to have a parent who is lovingly committed to a child is no different at age 7 than at age 17. They’re still just children who need a family who will be there to love and guide them for the rest of their lives.”

If you have room in your heart and are passionate about helping teens become successful consider becoming a foster or adoptive parent today. Your love and support can help change lives. For more information about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, please visit our website at  http://myflfamilies.com/fosteringteens.

Celebrating the Dream

Mike & Foster MomGuest post by Mike Williams, entrepreneur and former foster youth

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans. I have been fortunate to learn great things about my heritage, and how so many African Americans helped paved the way for me.

Two of my favorite African American heroes are Dr. Steve Perry and Les Brown. Dr. Perry is the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which has sent 100 percent of its predominantly low-income, minority, first generation high school graduates to four-year colleges every year since its first class graduated in 2006. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Perry at the 2015 National Faith Symposium and he made an impact on my life forever. Secondly, Les Brown is a man who not only found the greatness inside himself, but helped thousands of others as well, including myself. He is a former foster kid like me, and is now one of the most sought-after speakers in the world and I aspire to impact thousands just like him.

Like these great men, perhaps my story can inspire others to never give up on their dreams. I arrived in foster care around the age of 9 because my mother was on drugs for many years and could not take care of me. I never knew my father. The amount of pain I endured as a young child was traumatic. I went from being a little angel, who thought I was a precious gift from God for my mom to love forever, to a very disrespectful and disobedient child who hated adults. So while most kids my age were playing football, video games and going to movies… my world was being turned upside down. I was placed in more than 20 foster homes and attended more than 10 different schools. I remained in the foster care system until aging out at 18.

Changes in my behavior and emotions paved a rocky road for me. I was sad, alone and depressed. I even attempted to take my life and end it all. But I’m still standing.

I believe I’m a great example of why you don’t have to be a product of your circumstances. I’ve graduated from Tallahassee Community College with my AA Degree and am continuing my studies for my Bachelor’s in Business Management. I’ve helped launch and market several successful businesses and I’m a growing motivational/inspirational speaker.

I was a child destined for failure until amazing people came into my life like my foster mom, Pamela Benton, and foster dad, Matt McKibbin. When faced with some of my life’s hardest challenges, these two people were there to uplift and guide me. They embody the true meaning of committed and dedicated parents and I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of their families.

I believe we can all make a difference in the lives of children and families. African Americans should be encouraged to become foster and adoptive parents. To me, that’s how real black history is made.

#InspiringSelfSuccess

#ItCanBeDone

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

Great news – Florida Sees Increase in Foster Care Homes Over Past Fiscal Year!

Photo courtesy of Devereux Community Based Care. This CBC's efforts led to a 45 percent increase in the number of homes licensed during the past year through their “25 by 25” campaign.

Photo courtesy of Devereux Community Based Care. This CBC’s efforts led to a 45 percent increase in the number of homes licensed during the past year through their “25 by 25” campaign.

GREAT NEWS! We’ve seen an increase in foster homes available. DCF and community partners have recruited more than 1,380 new foster families this fiscal year!

Approximately 10,000 children are in foster placements throughout Florida. Foster parents change lives and offer hope to children who have been removed from their homes by no fault of their own, because they have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot safely remain with their parents. They play a significant role in helping families heal and reunite. When reunification is not possible they help children transition to a new home and a new family.

Interested in fostering? Visit www.MyFLFamilies.com/FosteringSuccess.