The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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A Role Model
A winning essay from the Awards for Youth in Care
Gabrielle Rodriguez

When I entered care I thought it was the end of my life. I was 16 and felt powerless and alone. I didn’t know anyone in care, and I went to a school with no support for youth in care. In fact, my status was kept a secret, as if it were something to be ashamed of. I was also in an abusive relationship.

When I applied to college, I wanted to get as far away from New York as possible. My plan was to run away from all my worries: the case workers, the lawyers, the family drama, my abusive partner—everything. I ran to the only out-of-state school I got into, in Massachusetts.

I thought that coming from a mostly white school in New York, I knew how to handle diversity. I was wrong. Back home, all the people in my building were Latino, and here I was the only Hispanic in my dorm. I was not used to huge classes. I was not used to everyone laughing at everything I said, as if I was the latest punchline, even when I wasn’t trying to be funny. I fell into a depression.

I barely made it through the first semester, and then quit school. I dreaded coming back to a foster home I didn’t want to be in, with no job. I’d flamed out my freshman year of college, while all of my friends were on social media celebrating college life.

The first month home was hard. I was going back to my grandmother’s house, where, literally and figuratively, I did not fit in. I was broke, alone, and still trying to overcome my depression. Eventually I found a job, which seemed like a godsend at the time. I was working more than 40 hours a week and then eventually got another job in an office.

image by Ellyn Rivers-Creative Commons

‘I Want to Be Like You’

Working took my mind off of everything. Having money meant I could provide experiences for my siblings that their parents could not give them. The feelings of failure began to dissipate. I got out of my three-year-long abusive relationship. I started reconnecting with friends. Things were starting to fall back into place. A cloud of hope appeared; it seemed like anything was possible.

Although having money granted me some power, I didn’t want to break my back to get a check. I realized that enrolling in school would get me closer to my goals. I got into Queens College and a program called the Dorm Project, which allowed me to live in the dorms for free and offered financial and emotional support too. This time I wanted to do things differently. I was determined to throw all my energy into school. I quit my jobs and became a full-time student.

I came back to school after the long break, knowing better what I wanted. I had a tutor who supported me academically and emotionally, and I didn’t have to worry about money. I finished with the highest GPA in the Dorm Project. One day, my 6-year-old sister said, “You always get 100, Gabbie. I want to be like you.”

It was then that I felt I had regained my power. Being the oldest of three means being someone my siblings can look up to. I was able to help my baby sister realize that if I can do it, she can too. We come from the same place. Aside from representing Latina women, I also felt like a symbol of everything foster youth can accomplish.

There is nothing more powerful than being the change you wish to see and becoming an example of where hard work can get you. When it feels like everything is falling apart, that is just resilience’s mating call. Over the last three years, I have succeeded when everyone expected me to fail. I’ve helped change the stigma surrounding foster youth and I’m improving the statistics of foster youth who get a college degree. Being a role model makes me feel powerful.

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