Category Archives: SunCoast Region

Super Marta

 Guest post by Brent Hobbs, Adoptions Care Manager with Camelot Community Care in partnership with Eckerd Community Alternatives.

Marta and her friend

Marta and her friend

Marta was born a healthy child. When she was just 1 year old, she was involved in a horrific car accident. Her mother rode in a car with Marta on her lap and the little girl was ejected from the car leaving her brain damaged, blind, deaf and wheelchair bound. Doctors said she would require lifelong care. Her mother gave her custody to the State of Florida.

Marta came into care with Camelot Community Care in 2008. We searched and found a forever family in Nebraska who saw a picture of Marta and knew she belonged to them. Unfortunately, many people believe that when you have special needs like Marta, adoption is not a possibility. But, boy did Super Marta bust that myth!

I hear from Marta’s adoptive mother from time to time. Marta is now a first grader and a chatterbox. She talks the entire two blocks to school most mornings! Marta’s medical needs are still great, but with the love and caring from her forever family, the horizon looks promising. Marta has a stander and a walker, which she loves to stand in. Her mother also tells me she is starting to take some steps while in her walker, but only when she is in the mood – Marta does possess a certain stubborn streak.

The super exciting news is that Marta is not blind after all! She is extremely near-sighted and has astigmatism, but she can see! She has new pink glasses and actually gets upset when her para-professional at school takes them off to clean them. Can you imagine it? A life of darkness and now all of a sudden light and sight. I wouldn’t want those glasses to come off either! :)

Marta is special, in a superhero-type of way. A story like Marta is why we are in this profession. This story, and so many others like it, makes our hearts smile!

If you would like to learn more about becoming a medically needy foster parent in Florida, please visit www.fosteringflorida.com. For more information about adoption, visit www.adoptflorida.org.

Help the kids – with just one click!

Guest post by Tania Santos, Community Giving and Communications Manager; and Norrine Russell, Grants Manager, at The Children’s Home Inc. in Tampa.

A cottage bedroom at The Children's Home.

A cottage bedroom at The Children’s Home.

When an abused child needs safety and love, when parents are at the end of their rope, when children are failing in school, when a mother dies and a grandmother takes in her six children, when parents need counseling to save their family, THE CHILDREN’S HOME provides hope, help and healing.

Now YOU have the power to help kids at The Children’s Home, like Danielle and Koby – with just one click through Aetna Voices of Health national competition.

Danielle and Koby’s Story

Danielle and Koby’s mother had her kids at a young age and wasn’t prepared to be a parent.  She had a long history with substance abuse which made it difficult for her to care for her children.  The children lived off and on with their mother in Florida and their grandparents in Michigan.

While in their mother’s care they were exposed to lots of drug use, physical abuse, domestic violence, and far too many sexual situations.  Danielle was also sexually abused while in the care of her mother and saw a family friend die from a drug overdose.  The young girl experienced physical abuse, being beaten and punched in the face, traumatized by her grandfather while residing with her grandparents.

A case plan was opened in July 2010 after reports from a teacher that Danielle and Koby witnessed domestic violence between their mother and her boyfriend.  They were removed from their mother’s care in December 2010.  As the mother already had an active case plan at the time of removal, termination of parental rights was pursued and granted in April 2011. The kids were 9 and 11 at that time.

The Children's Home grounds.

The Children’s Home grounds.

Danielle and Koby resided with family and many group homes before being placed together at The Children’s Home Inc. (CHI).  Upon being placed at CHI, placement was immediately sought with their step-grandmother, who was also back in Michigan. This was a long, tedious process that created a great deal of anxiety and frustration for the children. Their behaviors deteriorated as they struggled with the fear that they would never return home to Michigan.

Their strong relationships with The Children’s Home staff and therapists helped them through this extremely difficult period.  They received weekly individual therapy and had family therapy as well.  They remained for 14 months and were able to move back to Michigan to be with their step-grandmother in October 2012. The following summer,  Danielle and Koby, now 10 and 12, were adopted by their step-grandmother.  Because of the efforts of The Children’s Home, abused children experience safety, hope and healing every day.

The Children's Home playground.

The Children’s Home playground.

You can help abused children like Danielle and Koby today! VOTE for The Children’s Home in the Aetna Voices of Health national competition—and vote every day until October 13. The organization with the most votes gets $30,000, second place gets $20,000. This money would help children like Danielle and Koby have a safe place to heal, a warm bed and good food, and all the therapy they need to develop happiness and hope for the future.  The Children’s Home is one of 33 finalists in the country and competition is FIERCE—the kids won’t win without our help!

Vote for The Children’s Home … vote for healing … vote for hope for Florida’s kids. 

My angel

The two guest posts below are by Shelly Schrett and Jordan. Shelly and her husband, Mike, adopted Jordan at age 15. Jordan’s adoption is one of 3,353 finalized in the past year, including 421 teens.  The Schrett’s are a part of Eckerd Community Alternatives

Shelly’s story:

This picture of Mike, Jordan and me was taken while vacationing in Michigan this summer. My son is growing into a awesome young man. He is in the Athletic Leadership Program at the YMCA where he mentors and coaches preschool basketball. He is also in the ROTC program at Alanso High School and has a A in that class. Jordan has plans for college and then would like to join the military. Jordan’s goofy happy nature makes me smile daily. When he kisses me on the cheek to tell me good morning and that he loves me, I remember that Jordan is a gift from God and my angel!

Jordan’s story:

In this picture with my Mom and Dad I am smiling, but it wasn’t always that way. When I first became a part of their family, I wasn’t very open to accepting them as my parents. I was standoffish and reserved, not wanting to fully open myself up to the love they had to offer. I was scared more than anything – not wanting to be rejected and still having so many questions.

My parents made me go to family therapy and eventually I had the courage to say to them – how come everyone knows about my past except me!?! You can all talk about my life and give reasons for how I am feeling/acting but no one is clueing me into any of this. Now that I know who I am and where I came from, it is easier for me to accept where I am.

My parents stuck with me through this and gave me the time I needed to process through my past and become content with where I am. Now, I can’t imagine my life any other way. Because of my parents, I am going on great vacations like the one in the photo of us in Michigan this summer. I have also become involved in lots of activities and am excited about all I want to accomplish in the future. I even got to be an usher at my new cousin’s wedding this summer! Belonging to a family is something all kids need, no matter how old.

This is tough for me to admit but every morning I wake up; I give my mom a kiss on the cheek and tell her I love her. My family has changed my life and I am so thankful my parents helped me get to where I am today.

If you are interested in opening your heart and home to a child, please visit www.adoptflorida.org

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.