One of the many things we celebrate during May is National Foster Care Month. During this month, we would like to bring attention to the lesser heard topics concerning foster youth, such as their successes and journey beyond the stigma of being in care. You may remember reading about Anthony a few years ago when he was featured for his support and passion for helping his peers, despite his own hurdles. We are honored to share with you Anthony’s accomplishments, in his own words, since aging out of care and his forays into adulthood!
I entered the foster care system when I was 14 years old. I didn’t have a great deal of trust, was emotionally traumatized, and just overall in a bad space. It took years for me to open up and begin to accept people into my life without having my guard up. Someone who helped me gradually open up without feeling judged was Dr. Melinda Konigsberg, VP, Medical and Mental Health, Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York.
A couple years ago at Little Flower, a group was created (and still exists to this day!) to help young people talk about issues that affected us most, in a safe, non-judgmental space. Having my peers share similar experiences made sharing my vulnerabilities easier. Dr. Konigsberg helped to make it easier for me to vent my frustrations and things that really bothered me in that particular point of my life. Her support went further than just supportive counseling.
As I finally graduated high school and moved on to college, I started doing more things on a professional level. I was nominated by Dr. Konigsberg for the LGBTQ Allies Award. She showed support by attending the event. Likewise, when I did public speaking at NYU or graduated from my internship at Northwell Health, she was there. I’m always grateful for having her to confide in and on my side as I continue to strive for more.
Along with a strong support system some other things I place high value on is my education. I’ve always had mixed feelings about school. When I was in care I would often talk about dropping out of high school because I often got bullied and felt like school was a waste of time. Through my support system and also thinking of my future I persevered and was able to graduate high school and enroll in LaGuardia Community College. I thought I had finally made it to the Holy Grail! But I wasn’t focused at all and didn’t take my classes seriously. I ended up dropping out midway through the second semester.
I felt ashamed and didn’t want to talk about my school status for a long time. I felt like a failure and wanted to find an escape route, something that would make me feel productive with my time. I found some resources about Fedcaps and FEGS (Federal Employment & Guidance Service), vocational/educational programs and they helped me get a retail internship and gain experience and money. I was also heavily engaged in Youth Advisory Boards and got involved in advocacy and cross systems like juvenile justice and mental health.
After several months of exploring different things and having a better idea of what I wanted, I felt ready to jump back into school and give it my all. I got great grades at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) and then applied to, what I consider my academic turning point, Columbia University. It was such a day and night difference from BMCC and I can spend forever talking about how Columbia changed my viewpoint on many things but I’ll just say it was an amazing, fulfilling journey that really pushed me to do my best. I never would’ve thought I would go from nearly being a high school drop-out to graduating from an Ivy League.
During these ups and downs in my life housing was always on my mind. Housing is something that most kids in foster care think about. We dread the feeling of case managers, staff members, judges, all these people having say in our life, and we have so little. Housing is the transition where you are finally a grown, independent adult, where you can finally make your own decisions.
I aged out of care when I was 21 and the last bit of services I received at Little Flower was transitional Medicaid and housing assistance. However, what I really cared about was having my own apartment. I was lucky that I continued living with my aunt and nothing really changed in my day to day life, except now I had to pay rent. I felt pressure to come up with rent while living there and being in school full time, which made me anxious. A year later I got a call from Little Flower saying that my apartment was ready. It was what I always wanted to hear. I made the call immediately to check it out the next day and rushed over to the Queensbridge Houses.
I wasn’t overly impressed by my studio apartment but just happy that I finally had a place to call home. It took a while for me to come up with the security deposit as by that point in my life I only had a part-time job and my aunt wasn’t lending me help. The first few days were a mix of euphoria, stress, and curiosity. I finally had an apartment!!! It was mine to paint, decorate, sleep in, keep the bathroom door open, whatever. I wanted to explore this neighborhood, Long Island City, and what it had to offer. How different it was from Brooklyn. I was also pretty stressed because I barely had enough money to live on until my next paycheck. All these mixed emotions carried over for some time while I adjusted to “adulting.”
One of the painful experiences was not having furniture for the first four weeks. I would sleep on the floor with my spare blanket. The furniture company kept having delays in delivering my things (maybe because I lived in another borough?). While the compensation they gave me every time they failed to deliver came in handy, I really yearned for not just an appropriate place to put my head down at night but to also make it feel like a real home; not just a bare studio with a lot of garbage bags in my closet.
When I finally did receive my furniture I broke down and cried. The feeling of my apartment coming together was overwhelming. It’s like a broken puzzle of missing pieces, never having a real home, moving around so much, and then you finally find the right pieces that connect the dots. Yes, it had quite a bit to improve, but the apartment finally felt alive. I’m happy to say that as time passed I have been able to add more items to make it feel much homier.
So where am I now? I currently work at the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. I work as a Peer Educator, facilitating workshops about healthy relationships (and abusive ones) and what that entails. I’ve continued to do public speaking, particularly about my experiences in foster care and my journey as a Youth Advocate. I’m 25 and while I feel way more ahead than I ever thought I would be I still have so much to go! The position I was in as a helpless, traumatized young boy to an independent, responsible man has been a journey that hasn’t always been fun. But it reminds me of where I came from and how much I still want to grow.
“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.”