There are many heroes in our world – the volunteers who give their time, the donors who give of their resources, the staff that goes above and beyond, and especially the children who show amazing resilience time and again. The stories are true, but names and identifying details may be changed for privacy purposes.
Many of us were taught that a key to success is tenacity. But 18-year-old-Savanna says that her secret to moving forward was giving up.
Savanna assumed the role of a parent at a very early age. Her mother—consumed by her addiction to alcohol and drugs—was seldom home to take care of Savanna and her four siblings. From early childhood, it was up to Savanna to bathe and dress the other children, get them to day care, do the grocery shopping. While other children might have been playing house, for Savanna it was not a game.
When Savanna was 12 years old, her family’s situation was brought to the attention of child protective services through calls from the school and neighbors reporting that Savanna was truant. The five children were taken into foster care, placed in different homes.
“I worried a lot about my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t waking them up in the morning, wasn’t tucking them in at night.”
Savanna not only struggled with losing daily contact with her siblings—for whom she felt responsible—she still longed for her mother to return to them.
“I had a lot of hope in the beginning that my mother would change. I thought, maybe she’ll stay clean, maybe she’ll come visit us. It was hard for me to give up on her, to give up on that hope, and move on with my life.”
Through treatment in two residential treatment facilities, what helped Savanna was the steady support of two people that she could confide in: a caseworker, Debby May, and a CASA volunteer, Liz Tarrant. Finally Savanna was able to let go of her disappointment in her mother and move forward with her own life.
“Having someone there consistently for the last five years, telling me that everything was going to be OK, someone who was not going to give up on me like my mother had, made all the difference in my life.”
Today, Savanna is ready for the future to be bright. She is a senior in high school, completing the credits needed to get her high school diploma. This summer she is participating in a job corps program, the first step toward pursuing her dream of becoming a police officer.
Though her siblings are now living with family members throughout the country, they stay in close touch.
Cheryl & John
Cheryl Reed shares the story of John, a child who suffered years of neglect by a drug-addicted mother and physical abuse by her boyfriends before finding a safe, permanent home:
When I first met John he was 12 years old and had just entered foster care. He and his four siblings had been homeless. He and his twin took turns taking care of the two youngest so that each could go to school every other day.
While in state care, John was moved 15 times in two years. A child used to no rules was forced into strange houses, three hospitals, emergency care facilities and residential treatment centers in five different cities.
John watched as his siblings found permanent homes: An aunt took custody of his older brother and twin sister, but not him. His little sister and brother were adopted. But not John. A foster home where he and his younger siblings were placed kept his siblings but told CPS to pick John up. Relatives promised to visit but didn’t. A foster dad kept him two days and returned him….
John carried my crumpled CASA business card in his back pocket. When I visited him, he would retrieve it and proudly tell me, “I still have your card.” I was the only continuity in his life as I consistently and adamantly advocated for him.
While I struggled to find permanency for John, he deteriorated, growing angry, combative and aggressive. He broke his own arm hitting a wall. He was put on five medications. He saw bugs in his food and heard voices. He refused to eat.
After exhausting possibility after possibility for permanency, John finally got the home he deserved. Rafaela, his great aunt, wanted to be his mother. Single, working full time, she already had three children. But John needed her and that was enough. John was taken off all medications save one, and his once slim frame bloomed with a healthy 30 pound gain. Rafaela says that to this day she has never been called to the school concerning any aggressive behavior.
It has been almost four years since the close of this case and just last week I saw John and he told me a secret. He has a special box where he keeps his most treasured things. In it is a crumpled CASA business card. The same one that I gave him six years ago…
Dashun: From Victim to Victorious
Six years ago, Dashun Jackson was a boy in need of a voice. After years of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, he had many physical and emotional scars, including what he describes as an inability to talk with men.
Today, Dashun is not only confidently representing himself—as a junior in college and program manager at a youth service organization—he is also speaking up for the rights of foster children as an advocate in state and federal government settings.
Below, Dashun shares the story of his path from being an abused boy to co-author of the Nevada Foster Care Bill of Rights and a 2012 Congressional Coalition on Adoption congressional intern:
I often quote the title of a book to describe my journey in life: Eternal Victim/Eternal Victor.
As a boy, my three sisters and I suffered just about every form of abuse you can imagine—emotional and physical attacks by my mother, later sexual abuse by her and her boyfriend. When I was 13 years old, we were all removed from our home. After that, I bounced around, from a children’s emergency shelter to an aunt’s house, then back to the shelter. There was so much I did not know about the foster care system. Without knowledge or the power to speak up, I felt like a victim.
A year and a half later, I met my CASA volunteer, Robert. And everything changed.
Robert taught me how to communicate, how to represent myself and my needs. He helped me understand what was happening in court and taught me how to stand up for myself.
When I had something to say, Robert made sure my voice was heard. When I did not want to or could not speak, he spoke for me.
At every school event, Robert was there. From ROTC ceremonies to my high school graduation, he was there. When I took hold of my diploma, I heard his cheers above the rest.
About that same time, I was placed into my final foster home, where I learned about service to others. My foster father did so much more than he had to do, for me and for those around him. From that moment on I decided that there was much that I need to give back.
I have basically dedicated my time to helping children whose life circumstances are similar to mine—from gathering gifts for children of abused women at the holidays to advocating for the rights of foster children on a state level. Today, I am working for a youth-serving organization. As a program manager, I am creating a new mentoring program for youth who have been raised by their grandparents or in single-family homes.
This summer, I had the amazing experience of being an intern in Sen. Harry Reid’s office in Washington, DC. I had seen a lot of legislation in the state of Nevada, but the magnitude of change in DC amazed me. This summer I learned that if you have a voice, there is someone who is willing to listen to it and to try to make change. I’ve been given a powerful voice. I intend to use it as much as I can, for as long as I can.