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After 10 years in foster care, Aszelee’s ready for independence

September 8, 2011

Aszelee’s working things out.

It’s a long process, but not one she’s unaccustomed to – she likes to be prepared. And she’s positive; she keeps reminding herself that in the end, her efforts will pay off.

Not long ago, turned 18 and closed out 10 years in foster care throughout East Tennessee. In late May, she graduated from high school. Months before, she faced the question most foster children face as they age out of state custody.
Now what?

“When I was 17, it hit me that I was about to get out of foster care and I didn’t have any options,” she said. “I had to find a place to stay, get insurance, a job, and I had to finish school. I didn’t know what was available. I was a little overwhelmed.”

She was also angry. Aszelee was placed in foster care in 2001. She was physically aggressive and had difficulty coping with frustrating situations.

“Before, I used to lash out in anger,” Aszelee said. “But now I keep reminding myself that I have a plan and I have to remember that I’ve got to make things better for me.”

After many foster homes, she was referred to Youth Villages’ transitional living program in September 2010. She relocated to the Knoxville area.

“It was into the school year, so we first worked toward finding a school,” TL Specialist A’lana Rodgers said. “Before I met Aszelee we spoke on the phone and I knew I would enjoy working with her.”

Aszelee did the research and found housing and transportation resources she could use. She came up with a plan that started with finishing high school and then getting into college. She’s working on applications and financial aid now. She would like to pursue performing arts in college.

Youth Villages began transitional living for youth aging out of state custody in 1999. Through a grant from The Day Foundation, Youth Villages helps these children get a good start on adulthood in the crucial years between age 17 and 22. Transitional living specialists help young people learn to deal with the minor and major problems that come with adulthood. They help participants find housing and health services, learn how to access transportation, meet their basic needs and work through educational and career goals.

“She’s so resourceful,” A’lana said. “When we meet, she thinks things through, comes up with a plan and says, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ It’s unusual for someone to be that focused.”

Aszelee’s drive to better her situation included a summer visit to extended relatives out of state. Aszelee has a network of friends and former foster parents for support. She had some good, but many bad experiences in foster care.

“Foster care was difficult,” she said. “It didn’t prepare me for anything. I’m probably more driven sometimes because of my situation, but I had to find resources myself. I had to get out and look around to find out what to do.”

She wants to teach and also be a foster parent in the future. She wants youth to know what’s available so they don’t find themselves in the same situation at 17.

Aszelee said she’s “keeping her eyes on the prize,” as she works toward her goals – getting out, getting a degree and helping others.

And in the future, should another youth much like her be placed in her care as a foster child? They shouldn’t worry.

They’ll have a plan. They’ll work things out.

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