Tag Archives: teen

A lot of love to give

By Kathy Wintons, Adoptive mom and Administrative Secretary at Children’s Home Society of Florida.

Daughter and mother on adoption day!

Daughter and mother on adoption day!

I met my daughter, Myra, for the first time when she was 14. I was transporting her to the airport where she was going to fly out and visit a potential adoptive parent. After her return she decided the parent wasn’t a match for her. She wanted to wait, pray and dream for a father and mother that was a good fit for her.

My husband and I were not interested in teenager. I always preferred caring for younger kids. My husband and I always knew that someday we would adopt. We took the in-depth adoption training course (MAPP) so we would be ready to adopt, but as the years went by and not thinking about adopting.  I was asked to be Myra’s mentor and, eventually, I agreed.

Over the next two years, we realized Myra had become a part of our family. There was never a moment where it clicked, it was a gradual thing. Eventually, we just couldn’t imagine our lives without her. My husband and I prayed about it and we decided we can do this. We can be her mother and father.

I do think there was a moment where Myra realized she wanted to be in our family. My husband and I took her to her high school’s football game. There we were, sitting in the stands with the other families. I think that is the moment that she truly felt she had found her forever family.

Myra officially became a part of our family on April 9, 2014. The attorney said he had never seen so many people in the courtroom before – family, coworkers, friends and case managers that had helped her to get to her forever family; there were so many people there to surround us with love and support.

Myra is an A/B student. She is a wonderful athlete – she’s currently on the volleyball and basketball teams and hopes to get back into track as well. Her dream is to become a nurse and background in law.

Daughter, mother, grandmother and father.

Daughter, mother, grandmother and father.

I always thought I would adopt a baby or toddler, but Myra is perfect for us. Teens like Myra desire to have a family, to be loved – and they have a lot of love to give.   Every day is not always a great day.  But when she gives us all the love she can give and says, “Mommy I love you,” It makes everything wonderful!

Like all children, teenagers need to know that they are loved and that the love is forever. However, If you are flexible, don’t take yourself (or them) too seriously, and can negotiate firm but loving guidelines, this can be an ideal situation for you both. Although at times it seemed less time consuming because teens are more independent, they may require more emotional work for a time. Raising a teenager into adulthood may have bumps along the way, but the joy of knowing you are making a difference in a young adults life is a lifetime achievement for you and that child.

I broke the stereotype

Guest post by Terran Vandiver, who grew up in kinship/relative care in Southeast Florida.

TerranMy history isn’t a pretty one—my childhood was full of tragic and traumatizing experiences. You know what they say, “it takes a village to raise a child,” well, I didn’t have that. I was living on the edge of the poverty line.

I had an alcoholic mom and an abusive stepdad. I was the oldest brother in my family, which made me the man of the house and I had to take on a lot of responsibility of being a man before I was able to.

Imagine trying to defend your mom and sisters from molestation when you don’t really have the strength to fight back against your stepdad. Imagine losing every fight. I wanted so badly to show my little brothers that there is a good man somewhere in this world.

One day, something in me just told me to open the front door and run down the street and call 9-1-1 and see if they could help me. And a few minutes later, police cars came and basically took away the devil in my life.

After that, I got referred to a program called HANDY by one of my caseworkers. HANDY felt like home because I was simply able to relate there. They helped me understand that what I went through is a worldwide issue. I didn’t like going to school. I didn’t feel like I could connect or that people understood me.

But people understood me at HANDY. They understood that I was just as lost as them. And we all had a hope that we could overcome the dilemmas in our households.

We talked about managing money, time, and relationships, and transitioning into adulthood. Now, I’ve graduated from not just high school, but also Florida Atlantic University. I was the only person from my block and from my family to go to college. I broke the limitations of my stereotype.

My successes are based on the hearts that I’m able to positively influence. My salary is defined by the empowerment that I’m able to help youth experience. And my asset is the revitalization of my community, so that we can all comprehend the necessity and benefits of the universal connection, which impacts us all. #ITCANBEDONE

A Life Extra … Ordinary

Guest post by Jesse Wilson, child formerly in Florida’s foster care system, advocate, TV host, nationally recognized author and emerging politician. This post is reprinted with permission from www.jessewilson.org. 

jesse1Strange. Strange but … beautiful. A life extraordinary is what I have been mandated, 25 years now. I was dealt a tough hand early on and have been trying to bluff my way through since. I want to tell you about the wild card that was dealt my way this morning but realize many of you do not know my back story. So I’ll start somewhere near the beginning.

 I come from a broken, messy, disastrous family that is cursed. Perhaps due to all the horrible things they have done to themselves and others over the years. The family includes members of the KKK, sexual predators, felons and so much more.

I burst forward into this glorious family and the world on September 22, 1988. My mother was 15 and my father was 28. They would proceed to give me three younger brothers over the next four years. A situation that undoubtedly should have been cancelled from the start was given permission by my grandparents on my mother’s side.

I have sitting on the table beside me two discs compiled from a box of records. Records that detail the first few years of my life. They include all the abuse reports, medical records, and baker act documentation for my family. Around 5,000 pages of information to be shared at another time. I have blacked out much over the years and am slowly allowing it to trickle back. It all basically says how horrible my parents were. My father was the purveyor of pain and mother was the enabler who sat idly by in fear.

My three younger brothers were eventually removed from my parents and placed into foster care and I went on to live with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. Things here were not too bad. My aunt and I developed a strong relationship. I remember going to school together, looking up to her, coming home and eating sliced cheese together. She became my very best friend.

My grandmother would attempt to be sophisticated, but she would always fail. She was helpless; she had the same abhorrent blood of the family coursing through her body. Moments of unprovoked or irrationally provoked rage were ordinary.

Eventually it led to me too being brought into foster care.

When the police and child protective investigator came to remove me from my grandmother, I was locked in a closet. Sock in mouth and vowed to silence, I sat lifeless, afraid to move. Footsteps all around. Voices of thunder.

I spent the rest of my childhood in foster care and was eventually adopted into a wonderful family. I was given a new life, though not perfect, calmer.

The first times my biological family began to come back into my life was shortly before my 18th birthday when I was contacted by my biological mother. Being a child of wonder, I wanted to know so many things and spent hours on the telephone with her and had a few meetings. I quickly realized she was not the type of person I wanted a relationship with. I have a mom and dad who adopted me and raised me, yet she insisted on calling me son and me calling her mother. The “I love yous” rang furiously and rattled bitterly in my head. The relationship became one sided. She was the only pursuer.

My father came back into my life a couple years later. I was curious and searched his name online. His picture came across the Florida Sexual Offenders database. The charge read “Lewd assault/sexual battery on a victim under the age of 16.”

What do I do with that? Like my mother, I had many questions for him but now had a daughter in my life and couldn’t imagine spending any time with a man/coward/waste like this.

I gave in and rode out to meet him at his trailer. A large confederate flag donned the window, and trucks were parked in the yard. The house was filled with pictures of family, some in KKK outfits, and art that he had drawn. The art was really good. He was talented and wasted it. The meeting was therapeutic and strange. He provided dozens of photographs from my early childhood. I had never seen one of my baby pictures until this moment. He showed me photographs of us at visitation, though I was always told he never showed. I saw myself in him physically. The way he would talk and the way he would laugh. It was electrifying.

Shortly after I met my father, one of my brothers was murdered. August 20, 2011. Six months out of a three-year prison sentence, he was on the way to restoring his life. He was still young though and spent a lot of time having fun. A long story short, he was stabbed 26 times at a party by two guys with strange stories of their own. The trial for the second one finally concluded in May. This was perhaps the toughest point of my life. I planned and signed off on a funeral for my 21-year-old brother. I kept strong for my family, both sides, and tried to keep tensions between my biological and adopted family non-existent.

Last June, my aunt was involved in a freak, still not fully explained, accident. The story is blurred, but reads something like, she was headed home with her boyfriend and their car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. They were drunk and something happened where she ended up in the middle of the road and was hit and dismantled by a semi. When I received a call that she was gone, I wasn’t sure what to feel, or do. She was family but I hadn’t seen her much apart from the occasional Facebook post. At the same time, she was a major part of my story.

My grandmother died in July and again I find myself not knowing how to feel. Forgiveness is something I believed I had given but I could never bring myself to have a relationship with her, or any member of my biological family apart from my brothers. She would often reach out to me, comment on pictures, shares messages on my Facebook timeline. I was always quick to delete and erase any trace of her. I now sit confused. She was no longer my family but at the same time … she is. Where is the line between compassion and forgiveness drawn?

jesse3Because of her, I am here. Because of them, I am here. My story is them. The numerous additional stories I have are because of them.

My extraordinary life is because of them.

I share this not for pity but to possibly encourage someone else. Look where I was and look where I’m at.

Standing Tall

Guest post by Brandy Ingram, youth coordinator at Federation of Families.  This is part two of her blog post series. The FOF is an organization focused on the issues of children and youth with emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs and their families.

As a follow-up to my previous post, here are two more stories of hope from the children in our leadership program. Their struggles are real and their recovery inspiring.

Joshua,* 18 years old

My story, well, I was a young kid my family moved. I was thinking that was gonna keep me out of trouble, but everything went downhill when I met some new guys.  We used to go and steal the rich kids’ bikes and sell them. We would split the money between all four of us.

When I was in the fourth grade one of my friends got 35 years in prison for murder.  When I was in sixth grade, one of my best friends that I was close to got sent away because police found drugs and guns in his mom’s house.

I got into robbing people, selling drugs, stealing cars and breaking into houses and then I got caught. I got sent to a program and they told me I have something wrong with me called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and don’t know if I really believed them, but I learned that I didn’t want to be a victim and that I had to change for the better.  I have accepted God as my savior, so now I am older and trying my best to stay out of trouble, even though I get mad a lot.

Note: ODD is a condition in which a child displays uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior for more than six months. The behavior is often disruptive to the child’s daily life, interactions and activities.

Leila*, 16 years old

Hi, I am Haitian American.  I have at least 20 brothers and sisters, half of which I don’t get to see today.  Life for me has been a struggle.  Dealing with my mother’s death two days before her birthday has taken a huge toll on me.

When I was 11, I was sexually molested, causing me to feel very insecure about myself. Things happen and life goes by, but sometimes it’s just hard for me to spread my wings.  Since then, I’ve kept my guard up, not letting anyone in, trying to figure out what lies within.  After that, I fell into a deep depression, causing me to harm myself in various ways.

But that all changed when I started going to Federation of Families.  It helps focus on the mental health and well-being of both child and parent.  Not only did I have a shoulder to lean on, but a helping hand when times were hard.  Federation of Families gave me hope, courage, and a chance to make the right decisions in my life.  In a nutshell, life has been hard for me, but in the end, Federation of Families will always stand tall for me.

*Names changed for privacy.

“She said I could change the world”

KirkWe are excited to announce that Kirk A. Brown will begin as the Department of Children and Families Extended Foster Care Director on April 11. Upon his arrival, we want to share the inspiring story of how he got here:

Kirk Brown is passionate about helping kids get out of poverty and move their lives toward an educated future. Currently as Senior Vice President of Programs and Business and Development at HANDY (Helping Abused Neglected Disadvantaged Youth) Inc. in Broward County, Brown encourages youth in foster care to graduate high school and move onto higher education programs.  As DCF’s Extended Foster Care Director, he will guide youth as they transition into adulthood from the foster care system.

Brown grew up in a chaotic situation, and like many of the youth he helps, he had no original intentions to receive a college education. When he was 16 he moved from Jamaica to America and attended high school. Lacking a support system and the encouragement to strive for a higher education, Brown remembers feeling lost and faithless in the world. It wasn’t until he met his high school pre-law teacher that his story completely changed. “She gave me the most self-esteem I had ever received in my life,” said Kirk, “She said I could change the world.” His teacher acted as Brown’s first mentor in his life, giving him information on how to apply to college, receive financial aid and even helped him experience his first mock trial, which inspired Brown to pursue law school.

From then on, Kirk Brown’s future brightened. He not only graduated high school with outstanding grades, but went onto earn two undergraduate degrees at the Florida Atlantic University. After graduating in 1998, his schooling continued, as he now holds a Masters in Social Work degree from Barry University.

His inspiration to go into social work sparked one day when he was driving down Atlantic Boulevard and spotted the spitting image of his 16 year-old self. “It pulled on my heartstrings,” Kirk said, “I remembered being just like that kid, lost and hopeless, and that’s when it all connected for me. He even had on a Coca-Cola shirt just like one I had in Jamaica.” After picking him up and taking the boy to McDonalds Brown realized he couldn’t possibly leave him on the street. “I asked around, ‘Who fixes this problem?’ and I was told DCF.” Shortly after, Brown applied to the Department of Children and Families so he could fix situations like the lost kid he saw.

Kirk Brown’s first position at DCF was as a Family Services Counselor Supervisor. Through DCF and HANDY, Kirk has already improved so many young Floridian’s futures. Now back at the department, we are eager to experience the great work he will continue to do in the lives of our community’s youth.