by Amy O.
Utah Foster Care Foundation
When you wake up in the morning, chances are you follow your standard daily routine–you exercise, you eat breakfast, take a shower, get dressed, brush your teeth…the list goes on and on. But what you probably don’t do is ponder the ways in which you might be able to change the world. And if those thoughts, by chance, happen to cross your mind, you’re thinking of small things–like recycling or composting, instead of throwing everything from breakfast in the trash can. Or you promise not to use the pellet gun to shoot at the neighbor’s cat again this weekend…in an effort to preserve some sanctity for nature.
You probably don’t wonder what a difference you could make if you were a foster parent. And you especially don’t wonder what kind of a difference you could make if you were a foster parent to a teenager.
Because let’s face it. When you thinking about fostering (if you do at all) or adopting (way more common than thinking about foster care), you think of cute little babies, not teenagers who can run faster than you, think quicker than you and whoop your behind at every video game on the planet…not to mention wear clothes that you could never dream of fitting into or even looking “cool” in, even when you were a teenager.
But a foster parent truly can make a difference in the life of a child, especially that of a teenager.
Kaylee Allen, of Rutherford County in Tennessee had quite a bit to say in her recent Guest Column on DNJ.com, Rutherford County’s First News Source.
“My life had been one disappointment, one rejection after another. My volatile mother asked me to leave her house when I was 14. I spent a few weeks living in homeless shelters and on the street. My dad took me in, but then he left to take a contractor job overseas. There was nowhere else for me to go.”
Like so many other teens in foster care, Kaylee was suffering because her parents were unable/unwilling to care for her most basic needs–a roof over her head, a bed to sleep in, clean clothes and food to eat. And when she arrived at the home of John and Beverly Berryhill just five days before Christmas at the age of 17, she didn’t expect them to care about her at all.
Kaylee wasn’t shy in her commentary about letting people know what it’s REALLY like to be a teenager in foster care.
“I struggled in foster care. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to be a foster child. You always feel temporary. You never know how long you’re going to stay in one place, in one school. Older foster children, like me, have often had to fend for themselves or parent younger siblings. Forced to grow up fast, we miss out on many of the joys other kids know.”
What most people don’t understand about teenagers in foster care is that they are normal kids…like every other teenager out there, they have dreams, aspirations, wants and needs. They’re not bad kids. They’re not troublemakers. They’re not drug addicts, or alcoholics and they won’t abuse your younger children. They just want someone to love them. And when no one understands that, the going can be rough. As Kaylee says in her column, “When you’re a foster child, it’s easy to be angry.”
As a foster parent, you have the chance to not only make a change for a teenager, but for yourself as well.
“So there I was on the Berryhills’ doorstep. I didn’t expect anything from them, and from the first day, they offered me everything.
My first surprise was discovering so many presents for me under the Christmas tree. Everyone in the family had known I was coming and had gotten me presents, just like they did for the Berryhills’ other children. It was the beginning of one of the best years of my life.
I was a senior in high school, and my foster parents made sure I had a senior year filled with great memories. I have a collage of photos that tell the story of that year. There are photos of my birthday, the prom, graduation parties and graduation day. I was accepted to college, and the Berryhills both took off work one day to help me move in the dorm.”
To you, these may be just “things that every teenager experiences or has”. But to Kaylee, and thousands of other teenagers in foster care, these “little things” that we all take for granted each and every day are the things that truly make a difference. For Kaylee, a collage, a scrapbook, Christmas presents and a trip to the dorms at college meant being a part of the family, having someone to love her…and…just mattering.
“When I met the Berryhills, I had expected just another foster home. Instead, I found a family who cared about me — and will always care about me. I’m so grateful they came into my life at just the right time. They gave me so much just by treating me like their own child.
I’m married now, but I still have my house key and a place to come home to every Christmas.”
So what do you think?
When you wake up tomorrow morning and start your daily routine, as you make your breakfast, toss the leftovers into the trash can, shout to your kids that it’s time to go to school and wonder what wonderful or startling events might make up your day…this time, instead of just having an ordinary day, why not make it extraordinary?
Take a moment to wonder what it might be like to truly make a difference in the life of a child–in the life of a teenager–to bring the NORMALCY of a daily routine, of family traditions and of the upsets of a teenage life back into the life of a teenager. And then pick up the phone and do something about it. Change your daily routine to include just one more person and you might find yourself changing the world.
Excerpts for this blog post were taken from DNJ.com at http://www.dnj.com/article/20100508/OPINION02/5080301, where you will find the full text of Kaylee Allen’s Guest Column entitled, “Foster Parents Give Love.” About Kaylee: “Kaylee Allen is married to a member of the US Air Force who will deploy to Afghanistan this fall. While he’s gone, she’ll be completing coursework to become and emergency medical technician.”