“Murder.” “Life Sentence.” These are the words that jumped off the screen of my computer when I googled one of the youngsters I had tutored 15 years ago. At that time, he was a 3rd grader in foster care. He had bright brown eyes and a thirst for learning. When I last saw him, it was expected that he would be reunified with his family. His dull-eyed mugshot told me things hadn’t turned out as planned.
In the past 15 years, I have mentored and/or tutored more than 70 young people in foster care and have touched the lives of many more. Some days I’m moved to try to find some of the many kids who have passed in and out of my life. Other days, I just don’t want to know.
Incarcerated. Homeless. Parents before they are ready. Those are the cold realities of what can happen when children are broken by their parents, torn from their families and raised by a government system. In many cases, at 18 or 21, these young people are simply dumped onto the street without the education, personal resources or support to succeed.
So to give myself a little hope, I set about to find foster care alumnae who are not just surviving, but are thriving. Last year, the Connection Newspapers published three pieces in the resulting series.
Over the weekend, it was announced that I’d won a first-place award from the Virginia Press Association for a feature series; my series on foster care alumni success stories.
And I couldn’t have been more shocked. If it had been for one of my photo essays, maybe. But for something I had written? No way. You see, when I sit in front of a keyboard, the voice I hear is one from 30+ years ago. The voice I hear is that of a college professor who took me aside to tell me, “I’ve never had a student write as badly as you.”
Today, I’m humbled to be listed among so many of Virginia’s distinguished journalists. I’ll be forever thankful to Mary Kimm, Publisher and Editor at Local Media Connection (Connection Newspapers), for giving me the opportunity and platform to raise awareness of topics that are close to my heart.
I will never stop appreciating those who reach out to connect with children in foster care and who stick by them after they age-out of the System.
And, I’d like to give a very special thanks to my subjects, who trusted me with their very personal stories.