All names and pictures have been changed in order to protect confidentiality.
"Ray" was twelve years old when I met her during the summer of 2018. I remember it like yesterday when her foster care mom advised me that she was referred to The F.I.N.D. Design by the Department of Children Services as a positive program she could put her in while she was at work. She and her husband had just gotten her a couple of days prior and struggled to connect with her. The initial uncertainty Ray showed was understood, as I would later learn that she was entering her 24th foster care home. After introducing myself and the program, I directed both upstairs to the drop-off location. Before exiting, I noticed an intense glistening on Ray's forehead, and I stopped and asked, "Why are you so greasy?". She immediately responded with a giggle that lit up her entire face, as she explained it was Vaseline used to slick down her edges. "Honey, not Vaseline!" I replied and joined in laughter with her. Her then foster care mom looked confused as she confessed to making several attempts to get a smile since picking her up but had been unsuccessful.
Ray's challenging journey through the foster care system had created an "old woman" wisdom that beamed of survival. The team and I marveled at her ability to cultivate a conversation with intense knowledge and life experience. Additionally, we learned how amazing she was as an artist and continuously encouraged her to pour her pains and disappointments into her music and songwriting. One night during a parent engagement function, she performed her skills in front of a sizeable group. She left the crowd stunned with "sweaty eyes" as her passion and raw emotions touch the hearts of everyone in the room. Her camp experience proved to be one of "the best experiences I had in a long time if not ever." During the last week of camp, she was transferred to her 25th foster care home, where a day after graduation, she would run away. She later explained her reasoning for running, which was filled with emotions of isolation and frustration. Her new caretakers could only speak little English, making it impossible for her to communicate her needs to them.
During the next three years, Ray experienced a roller coaster of a journey. Two months after being on the run from the system, she was caught and shipped to a group home near Chattanooga, where she stayed for a year. During this time, we remained connected to her, even traveling the 2-hour drive to visit her. Ms. Linda, the Director of the group home, expressed her need to "meet the individuals that kept her up two days with excitement". Once seeing her, we reiterated the promise of a sisterhood bond that could not be broken. She was so appreciative of our consistency and dedication that she made the decision to recommit to the healing process that we started.
Fast forward to today, Ray will be turning 16 at the end of this month. We are proud to say she has reconnected to her true self, and to the powerhouse, she was destined to be. We have been honored to partner with her new foster care family to ensure she has a nurturing, supporting, and loving environment. We are so thrilled to announce that they will be fully adopting her this year, and she is so happy to have someone she can call mom and dad. Because she found the community of support that she deserved to have, Ray has reached one of her goals by being on the honor roll for the first time. Additionally, she has recently gotten a job to manage the new car she has waiting in the driveway for her, once she passes her driving test. She is in constant communication with us and has even accompanied us to our most recent F.L.Y Girl outing. Afterward, we received a random text of appreciation from her that I would love to share:
"I am so thankful to have you all by my side through all of my life's ups and downs. Know I will forever have you all. Thank you for every piece of knowledge, wisdom, and guidance you all have blessed me with. I love y'all."
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