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 Life Changer
A winning essay from the Awards for Youth in Care
Shateek Palmer

Family is supposed to be the people who push you to your full potential and love you when you feel down on yourself. But I never had that bond with anyone in my family. I went into foster care at age 9, then was adopted by an aunt. I realize that my aunt and cousins had their own problems, but it was frustrating not having anyone to open up to, and I became distant and acted out.

My distance and behavior issues made my aunt uneasy. She made me go to counseling, which I hated. Counselors were temporary for me until I met Fall Willeboordse, when I was 12. As my aunt drove me to our first session, I was thinking, “I would much rather be sleeping right now.” Inside, my aunt and I waited in a dark blue waiting room. I picked up a magazine and tried to relax. I had a little attitude because I had been to plenty of buildings like this one and had seen plenty of counselors.

For the first couple of sessions, my aunt came with me, so I only talked because she was there. After she left, I became distant again. I wasn’t enthusiastic about being there because I thought she was just doing her job. So instead of talking, Fall and I played the card games War and Spit or watched videos on her laptop.

One day Fall took me to a diner to eat, and I felt more comfortable speaking to her there. We started going to the diner regularly for our sessions. We would share a spinach and feta cheese omelet or a turkey burger with cheddar cheese.

image by YC-Art Dept

After a while I began to open up to Fall. We shared a lot of things about each other’s lives. Once I finally felt I could trust her, I told her why I’d been distant at first: I’d assumed she was only helping me because she had to. That is when she told me that the program she met me through, the Fostering Connection, is a nonprofit program and she wasn’t getting paid to be with me at all.

It was a big shock that somebody actually wanted to be around me and hear my thoughts and dreams. Over time, Fall built my trust up by consistently being there for me, sharing things about herself, and taking an interest in the things that were important to me, like my basketball games and poetry. Having her at my games made me want to play better. Her interest in my poetry encouraged me to write more. Fall helped me get a summer internship at Represent magazine and she continued giving me support. With all of my unhappiness at home, my problems with my aunt, my mother, and my cousins, Fall was the one who kept my head above water.

Of all the counselors I’ve had, Fall is the one who is still here today. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have found my love for writing. I don’t think I would even be out of high school. She saw my potential, she knew I was smart, and she never gave up on me. I just finished my first semester at Onondaga Community College with a 3.9 GPA! This is a huge change in me, considering I was self-sabotaging my studies in middle and high school due to my anger.

Although I do not see Fall every week like I used to, we still keep in touch through text and e-mail. Our communication keeps our relationship growing. I love talking to Fall, and this is a bond that I want to keep strong for the future. Her support kept me going when I felt like giving up. She helped change my life.

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