“It’s difficult out there,” said Princess, who grew up in the foster care system after her mother committed suicide when she was 3 years old. “Life is not a game.”
Luckily, Princess learned how to reach out and ask for help. She is about to go into a housing and life-skills program called Youth Moving On offered by St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a child welfare organization that provides foster care, mental health and education services throughout Southeast Wisconsin.
Now celebrating its 160th anniversary, the organization featured Princess at a special “Grow Hope” breakfast event April 17 that focused on foster care and young people who are aging out of the foster care system. Princess, who has received help for both through St. Aemilian-Lakeside, told her story at the breakfast, which was attended by about 100 people at the Italian Conference Center.
Princess credited her foster mother, Wanda Copening, who had six children of her own when she opened her home and her heart to a troubled 12 year old, with stressing education and never losing sight of hope. This was Princess’ second foster placement, but it provided her, she said, with the “courage to go out and learn.”
She always worked as a teenager, from baby sitting to jobs at fast food restaurants, and attended a two-year college. Her mother’s suicide weighed on Princess, she said. “But I was determined not to live in her shadow, but rather to live my own life and to achieve something. I knew that my mother’s hopes would live inside me.”
Perhaps because of her troubled past, everything was not smooth for Princess. Even with the love and encouragement she received, she got involved in an abusive relationship, left Wisconsin twice and lived in the south for a time. She is now the mother of Damaliya, 3, and Anielah, 9 months, and in great part because of her commitment to provide a better life for her daughters, she returned to Wisconsin in early 2010, living for a time in a homeless shelter.
She had been involved in a St. Aemilian-Lakeside program for former foster young people called Youth Transitioning to Adulthood Scholars, which connected her with resources, provided her with mentoring and support and encouraged education and finding a job. Her counselor in the program, Sara Herr, a social worker who acted in many ways like a surrogate parent, stayed in touch with Princess while she was out of state and helped her get into St. Aemilian-Lakeside’s new Youth Moving On program.
Through the program, also for former foster youth, Princess soon will move into a two-bedroom apartment with her children and will receive services focused on finding and keeping a job, learning to manage money and how to live successfully day to day. The 18-month program should help Princess transition to independence. She recently secured a job as a teaching assistant at a day care center and hopes one day to achieve her dream of being a psychiatric nurse.
While Princess knows her aims are high, she added, “I know you have to crawl before you can walk and that I have to take it one day at a time.”
The hardest part of all her experiences, Princess said, was wanting never to leave a home filled with love and support. “I wished my foster mother and other people who supported me could hold my hand and lead me all the way.
“But I learned the reality is that I can’t gain hope if I don’t step out and build my own direction. I learned that no matter what other people say or think of you, I can never give up on myself.”
For more information on the Youth Transitioning to Adulthood Scholars or the Youth Moving On programs, contact Jane Ottow, program coordinator, at 414-465-1363.
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