Tabitha expects good things to happen.
More importantly, she expects good things to happen to her.
“I think I’m ready to receive good things and accept accomplishments,” she said. “I’ve done a lot better for myself lately.”
Tabitha abused drugs with her family and grew up around them. She didn’t go to school, staying home to protect her younger sisters from the abuse of their parents. At age 17, Tabitha told a school counselor about her situation, and they were taken from the home. Her parents were recently charged and faced a sentencing hearing. Tabitha, now almost 20, was in the court room.
“I wanted to be there,” she said. “I wanted to be able to close the door on that chapter of my life.”
Her foster home was fantastic. There, she was allowed to be a teenager and received positive attention. She finished high school and entered Youth Villages’ transitional living program, YVLifeSet, where she began to thrive. She found a job, learned money management and got an apartment. She enrolled in college and would like to go into the social work field.
“When she first started, we went over those things youth face transitioning to adulthood,” said Audrey Covington, YVLifeSet specialist. “But the effects of her environment were still there. It was a big step for her to get out there and begin making a life. Tabitha needed consistency and needed to know she had support.”
Tabitha recently purchased a new car. She also maintains a job and full course load at school. She was also named a YV scholar, awarded to youth in the YVLifeSet program who receive extra support to attend college, provided they maintain rigorous academic and community service requirements.
“Now we’re focused on balancing all the different aspects of her life,” Covington said. “We still have to go over coping skills and work through her past. We also work on self esteem and maintaining healthy relationships.”
Tabitha has come a long way in just a few short years. She regularly visits her sisters, who were adopted by their foster parents. She reads a lot, and carries herself with more confidence and assurance.
“She wants to help younger people going through what she did,” Audrey said. “She’s gone from being a victim to learning how to be an advocate.”
“It’s cool to be a YV scholar,” Tabitha said. “Now, I feel like I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. No girl should have to go through what I did, and want to be in a position to help those who have.”
Alexis didn’t have anywhere else to turn when she called her former transitional living specialist Michael Williams.
A year before, she’d discharged from the Youth Villages transitional living program, now called YVLifeSet, and was doing well in high school. She contacted Michael for help getting out of an abusive relationship. She had a small daughter as well.
“It was scary,” Alexis said. “I had nowhere to go.”
Alexis didn’t have a home, had little support, and was fighting to keep custody of her daughter. Michael acted quickly to get Alexis back into YVLifeSet.
“Because of the nature of her situation with the domestic violence, I wanted to help as quickly as possible,” Michael said. “There was a lot going on and she needed help getting through it.”
During that time, Alexis thought she was going to lose everything. Through help from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Michael, Alexis began to slowly piece her life together. First, she found a place to live. She wasn’t in school, but she had a job. Through help from Legal Aid of East Tennessee and legal assistance from DCS, Alexis was able to gain custody of her daughter.
It wasn’t without a fight.
“I had so much going on, it was kind of like, ‘what else can happen?'” Alexis said. “It was one thing after another, but I focused on keeping my daughter.”
Also at this time, Alexis was finding her own voice. While in the abusive relationship, she described herself as brainwashed in a way, to stay at home, drop out of school… but she wanted something different. Through the struggles of getting out of the relationship, finding a home and fighting for custody, she began to find an inner strength to build a life. It wasn’t easy, as many of the meetings between Michael and Alexis were many hours long and sometimes two or three times a week.
“She was very motivated to make things happen,” Michael said. “But there for a time it was slow going getting through the legal process.”
Alexis continued to work part time and learned about budgeting and saving. Michael assisted her with an extension of foster care services, and she began pursuing her GED. They found community support through church and local shelters.
“When the reality and urgency of the situation set in, I had to learn quickly,” she said. “I learned how to listen and understand new things and ask good questions because there was so much at stake.”
Now Alexis can move forward. Instead of being moment-to-moment, she can plan for a future. She doesn’t have to worry about where she’s going to sleep. She can enjoy being a mother.
“Michael helped me a lot,” she said. “Without his help, I’d probably be homeless and without my daughter.”
Christopher, 11, struggled with his behavior upon entering Tim and Brandy’s foster home. He previously had several placement disruptions, had been separated from his siblings due to behavior and had low performance in school.
“Waiting for a new permanent family was really hard on Christopher,” said LaShea Cooks, Youth Villages foster care clinical supervisor. “I think a lot of his behavioral issues stemmed from that uncertainty.”
Christopher and his sisters entered custody three years ago due to neglect from their biological parents. They also experienced sexual and physical abuse. With his traumatic history, Christopher had trouble trusting that Tim and Brandy were going to stick around.
“Christopher had been getting into some fights at school and his grades were dropping,” said Katelyn Goodall, Youth Villages foster care counselor. “With his parental involvement, we have not seen these two issues in a while.”
Once Tim and Brandy’s commitment to Christopher was apparent to him, his behavior began to change. Christopher warmed up to the idea of adoption.
“Tim fully stepped into the father role for Christopher,” LaShea said. “With Tim’s patience, Christopher’s behaviors have been much better.”
One week after they signed an intent to adopt, Christopher’s adoption was finalized. An adoption celebration was held at Christopher’s favorite restaurant with his new family, biological sisters and Youth Villages team.
Through meetings with teachers and faculty, Tim and Brandy have worked hard to get Christopher back on track at school. Since he has had the support of his adoptive parents, along with cognitive behavioral therapy through Youth Villages, Christopher has been happier and more successful.
“His adoptive family really pushes Christopher to succeed in school,” Katelyn said, “which is the area where Christopher struggled the most and is now flourishing.”
Christopher also participates in the Boys and Girls Club, learning the extra social skills he lacks.
“Tim and Brandy are teaching him many important lessons,” LaShea said. “Most importantly, they have given him an overall sense of calmness.”
Tim’s patience has gained Christopher’s trust and he has easily become comfortable with the compassionate, reserved and understanding personality of Brandy. Thanks to these devoted parents, along with his Youth Villages team, Christopher finally feels a sense of security.
“As Christopher patiently waited for the judge to arrive on the day of his adoption,” said Joli LaRoche, Youth Villages adoption specialist, “he announced to everyone in the office how glad he was to finally become a member of a forever family.”
This week participants in our YV Scholars program were invited to our nation’s capital to participate in a special event at the White House.
The young people attended a workshop on the history of gospel music, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and presented by The GRAMMY Museum.
Our young people joined with other students from around the country to hear from music superstars Lyle Lovett, Michelle Williams, Rhiannon Giddens and others.
While in D.C., the young adults also took in some sightseeing and met with members of Congress to discuss YVLifeSet, the Youth Villages program for foster youth aging out of state custody.
The workshop was streamed live through whitehouse.gov and is available to watch on Youtube.
Below are some photos from the workshop provided by Getty images.
Last year, another group of our young people attended a ‘Women of Soul’ workshop, where they heard from entertainers Patti LaBelle, Melissa Etheridge and Janelle Monáe.
Youth Villages recently announced our involvement with “The Campaign to Change Direction,” a national initiative to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness and wellness.
As part of the collective effort led by Give an Hour, Youth Villages joined 50 other campaign partners in this effort with its pledge to spread awareness of the five signs of emotional suffering to the 23,000 children it helps each year and their families. The organization will use its 2,700 staff and all of its communication channels to spread the word to donors, volunteers, mentors and foster and adoptive parents.
Inspired by discussions at the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, “Change Direction” is a response to the way society addresses mental health. One in five Americans lives with a diagnosable mental health condition, and it is expected that more Americans will die by suicide than in car accidents this year.
“Youth Villages is proud to join this important effort because recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness is so important to the well-being of America’s children and families,” said Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D, chief clinical officer for Youth Villages. “Mental illness can limit a child’s potential for success, but effective help is available. Recognizing the signs of illness early can make all the difference in getting the right help.”
The campaign launched at a mental health summit at the Newseum on March 4, which included a keynote address from First Lady Michelle Obama, an appearance by Academy Award-winning producer of “Silver Linings Playbook,” Brue Cohen, and a performance by G.R.L., a musical girl group that was personally touched by the issue when their lead singer, Simone Battle, committed suicide in September 2014.
“Give an Hour is proud to lead this collective impact effort of partners from every sector of society as we change the direction of mental health in our nation,” said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and president of Give an Hour. “By creating a shared mission, by educating Americans about the five signs of emotional suffering, by encouraging compassion and action, we can change our culture to reflect what we know to be true—that mental health is not something to be afraid of or embarrassed about.”
Youth Villages encourages individuals and other organizations to “help change the direction” of mental health in our country and let your voices be heard by joining us in making a pledge, however large or small. The simplest pledge is one that anyone can do: Learn the five signs of emotional suffering so you can recognize them in yourself or help a loved one who may be in emotional pain. To learn more or to make a pledge to Change Direction, visit www.changedirection.org.
About The Campaign to Change Direction
The Campaign to Change Direction initiative is a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector who have come together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness. This initiative was inspired by the discussion at the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, which came on the heels of the Newtown tragedy.
He spent time at Youth Villages’ Boys Center for Intensive Residential Treatment when he disrupted from previous foster homes. His struggle with severe anxiety caused him to initially oppose any discussion of adoption.
Theresa and Wyatt began fostering Blake two years ago. His Youth Villages team worked patiently to stabilize his anxiety and behavior. With creative interventions, he has learned to cope with his anxiety and transition into a permanent home.
“Blake has always struggled with anxiety,” said Nicole Shepherd, Youth Villages foster care counselor. “But realizing that Theresa and Wyatt are never going to leave him caused his anxiety to fade more each day.”
With time and counsel invested in him by his foster parents and YV staff, Blake experienced a change of heart. He expressed the strong desire to be adopted and reflected that God had intended for his journey to lead him to this family.
“Blake told me that after 2,615 days in custody,” Nicole said, “he would go through it all again to be with this family.”
His family adopted another young boy from Youth Villages two years ago and felt that Blake made a perfect addition to their family.
“This home couldn’t have been more perfect for Blake if we would have designed it ourselves,” said Joli LaRoche, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “They want to make the lifetime commitment to him.”
Blake’s adoption was a joyful event celebrated on National Adoption Day. It was attended by his adoptive family, friends from church and his Youth Villages and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services teams. They celebrated with brunch and special appearances by Blake’s favorite Disney characters.
When the judge asked Blake if he were ready to be adopted into a permanent family, he answered, “I’ve been waiting my whole life.”
Blake told his counselor that he would like to be an inspirational speaker when he grows up. He wants to encourage others in the foster care system and let them know there is hope for finding a forever home.
When Ian attended another youth’s adoption party, he felt left out.
Tara Shepherd, Youth Villages counselor, pulled Ian aside to talk.
“He told me he was thinking about all of the places he had lived,” Tara said, “and how everyone just gives him away.”
Tara’s heart ached for Ian. In his 10 short years, he had endured much loss, abuse and neglect. Ian needed a forever home.
“I knew then that no matter what it took, I would see him adopted,” Tara said.
A few months later, Ian was introduced to Jonathan and Leah. The couple instantly knew Ian was meant to be a member of their family. Ian was with Jonathan and Leah for only seven months before they finalized his adoption.
Friends, family and Ian’s Youth Villages team attended his adoption finalization. Two YV staff members even left in the middle of the night to arrive in time to witness it.
“I had never seen a more excited and happy young man than Ian was that day,” said Jenna Fulcher-Thompson, Youth Villages adoption specialist. “Watching Jonathan and Leah approach the judge, Ian could not contain himself as he smiled and waved his hands in the air.”
Thanks to everyone who worked closely with Ian through his adoption process, he is now surrounded by the love and support of a permanent family. Youth Villages staff consider Ian’s placement to be a perfect match.
“I am so overjoyed for Ian and his forever family,” Tara said. “He will forever be in my heart.”