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All Grown Up

At eighteen, these foster kids aged out of a system that denied them a childhood.

Cabrini started this month as a mentor with Bridging the Gap. The past year has been the most "permanent" she's ever known, with school, work and not a single move in nine months. "I have a year left on my [housing voucher], and in that year, my goals are to continue saving, to get stabilized so that when I do leave this program I'm not going to have to go back to my real family or to feel like I have to be with a man. I started my mom's patterns. I had to be with this dude even though he hit me. I had to tell myself a year ago, I don't want to date. I don't want to be involved emotionally or physically with a man until I'm able to find myself. I really have found myself. I'm ready to date, but I love my single life so much right now that I'm not willing to give it up."

And Cabrini has a constant reminder of why she shouldn't have to give that up. When she was eighteen, she went to get a man's name tattooed on her wrist. At the last minute, she decided she wanted her own name instead, and the tattoo artist suggested she put it on her neck. She thought it would be "itty bitty." It's not. "Cabrini is on my neck because I stand for Cabrini. If anybody is going to make anything for Cabrini, it's Cabrini. Cabrini dies alone and gets judged alone. Nobody's ever going to take my dignity or my self pride again from me. Nobody's ever going to belittle me or make me feel worthless again. And every day I look in the mirror and I see that name Cabrini, and it reminds me every day: Don't forget to be yourself, because that's what life's about."


A photo of Stephanie Wooten's four-month-old daughter, Riley, hangs on a bulletin board at a Starbucks where Stephanie is a regular customer. The shop is not far from where she and the baby live with Mary, whom Stephanie calls her grandmother. Mary is the woman who adopted Stephanie's younger sister Stacey and who just happened to go looking for Stephanie the same day the teen found out she was pregnant last October.

Mary would have been there for Stephanie earlier, but she didn't know where she was or how desperate she'd become. Stephanie was not in the habit of asking for help, though her Chafee worker had been trying -- even physically taking Stephanie to Urban Peak once against her will to get her off the street.

After learning Stephanie was pregnant, Mary didn't ask her to come live with her immediately, but the invitation came within days. "I was a little hesitant, because I didn't know what she'd be like," Mary says. "I'd adopted her sister when she was already eighteen, and I couldn't adopt her, and I didn't want anything to go wrong with her sister because I had her going okay, but this one just added wonderful joy to our family. And not just with the baby, either."

Stephanie got pregnant, restarted high school for the second time at the charter Academy of Urban Learning, became a mentor at Bridging the Gap, and moved in with her grandma all at once. Throughout her pregnancy, she went to school, worked at Bridging the Gap, and then two evenings a week supervised at a call center in Adams County. She'd be at the bus stop at 7 a.m., transfer three times to get to school, and after school take another four buses to get to Mile High United Way. "She did that right until the day she had the baby," Mary says. "I picked her up from work, and we went to the hospital and she had the baby. I think she did awesome. She went from being kind of a mess to being an awesome person."

Stephanie had been racing to try to graduate before Riley was born. Two days after giving birth, she received her diploma. She'd made it. "I just needed someone who would support me, and that was my grandmother and my sister and my Chafee worker. I saw that I had that support, and it helped me, made me feel like I was something instead of nothing. I didn't feel so low, like I was a lost cause.

"If you want to be out on your own, you just have to know the connections so that you're safe," she continues. "You don't have to go through all this other stuff. That's kind of what Bridging the Gap is doing. It builds relationships with other adults, so that way they're not so alone. They can go to their Chafee worker and say, 'I'm struggling. How can you help me?' Or come to us."

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