‘Can she stay one more day?’
Those words reverberated through her adolescent ears long ago, and she still hears them today, more than 25 years later.
It wasn’t the question, however, that changed her life. It was the response. “No, I don’t want her to stay. She’s a ‘Washington’”. It was a response that sent her through many group homes and foster-care families during her turbulent childhood.
‘Lu’ (a pseudonym) tells a true story that so many former foster-care children who have aged out and entered society can tell. It’s a story of rejection, fear, resentment and restoration. It’s a story that needs to be heard.
“In the 1970s I moved from Detroit to Virginia when I was 8 years old. My mother was moving from an abusive relationship with my stepfather. All we did was fight in Detroit. I had a strong accent and was teased about it.
“My grandmother was worried about me and my sister getting pregnant. She said that my brother and I were too bad for my mom to keep, so she took us down to the Juvenile Intake Office. It bothered me when the judge asked, ‘Can we find a placement for her? Can she stay for one more day?’ She was talking about me and my brother. My mother said that she didn’t want me to stay there because I was a ‘Washington’. (We had different fathers.)
“She kept my sister, because she was the oldest and could do the domesticate housework for my grandmother and aunt on the weekend. My aunt would pick her up almost every weekend, and purchase her clothes and give her money. They didn’t really care if I had anything to wear, so I use to sneak my sister shoes out the house that they gave her so I could fit in with the other kids at school.
“His sister took care of me and she was very, very strict. She taught me 1940s values and had me get up in the morning and wash clothes on a washing board. I was a straight-A student. I was beaten all the time by her because she was so strict. I ran from school to home to be there on time so I wouldn’t get beaten. I became a good track runner because of it. I went to a foster home and the social worker sent me to one home where the foster parents threatened to beat me.”
Lu left her Aunt’s home and went to a foster family. It was a good move.
“I called them ‘Big Daddy and Little Mama’. They had nine kids of their own who were grown and out of the home. The siblings treated me like family. I stayed there for two years. I got into fights again in school.
“The social worker eventually moved me to a temporary placement home (emergency shelter). I stayed there for only a few days. It was a fun place and a very nice home. I have visited there since then and they are proud of me. I would not let her beat me. She did beat the foster kids and locked us in the home. She even locked the refrigerator.
“They found a new placement for me at a Group Home. This was my favorite house of all and this lady, Mrs. Frye, was by herself. She always had girls staying with them. There were six of us and the mother knew what I was going through. She encouraged me. She told me I was smart and encouraged me not to fight.”
Then her real mother started calling 10 years later. It was not to check up on her, though. She called her foster mother to gossip and tear Lu down. Her foster mother rejected the gossip and returned it with a good report. Lu’s road from rejection to acceptance began.
“Later, I moved to another foster home in the city. The director made sure we did our chores. I worked at Hardee’s nearby. I saved my money and graduated early from high school. It shocked everyone. I wanted to be on my own. I moved into an efficiency apartment, went to college and worked two jobs.”
Lu is married now, has a masters degree in business administration and is a twenty-year veteran of the Virginia Army National Guard, where she is an officer. She credits her foster mother and mentor, Mrs. Frye, for changing her life. “She listened to me. That is the most important thing someone can do with a foster child. When I went to the military I wrote her a long letter to thank her for her example. Now, I’m helping children in the same situation. I created a scholarship for $500 for each child. They must have a 3.0 GPA. I want to see them go through college. I want to help kids in foster care who are aged-out and overlooked. The new Virginia chapter of the Foster Care Alumni Association will award the scholarships.”
Lu survived an incredibly difficult childhood to succeed. Her foster mother and mentor made the difference. Now, she’s encouraging other foster care youth to succeed.
“You can achieve in this life based on what you have already been through. The only bad is yesterday, so you’re living for the present. I have faith and through that faith I can achieve. Through that faith, foster care children can also achieve.”
Philip Day is the mentoring coordinator for MentorMatch Harrisonburg, which serves the Shenandoah Valley region. MMH, a volunteer mentoring service provided by Lutheran Family Services of Virginia, brings adult mentors together with foster care and juvenile justice youth for one year of supervised, traditional one-on-one mentoring. For more information visit the website, www.mentormatch.info or call 540.437.1211.