Rachel’s Story: How to become a Woman and a Survivor
Rachel entered the foster care system at age five with her eight siblings. During her 14 years in the system, Rachel lived in 22 foster homes and shelters and attended 21 different schools; with so little consistency in life Rachel faced several setbacks. For example, frequent home and school changes meant Rachel did not graduate from high school, instead she had to earn her GED. Rachel wishes her life were easier but she recognizes the value of experience.
In 2007, at age 18, Rachel aged out of the foster care system. Fortunately, this is when she met Betsy. Betsy served as Rachel’s mentor into Independent Living. The Independent Living Program ensures that young adults leaving foster care have the adult relationships, education, housing, jobs and life skills they need to be successful on their own.
At 18 years old, Rachel was at a crossroads; she needed housing and education, but mostly direction. Betsy remembers Rachel as intensely shy during this period. In her childhood, Rachel lacked the love and support that builds confidence and it showed; she could barely make eye contact with her mentor. But when Betsy looked at Rachel, she saw a young woman with inspiring potential just waiting to be unlocked.
Betsy quickly stepped in showing Rachel how to express herself and how to set goals. She filled the role of self-esteem booster, college advisor, and financial advisor. She supported the job search by writing reference letters for Rachel. Rachel learned to accept help from the people in her life who truly wanted to see her grow. When she was homeless, she knew others had faith in her so she kept moving and with Betsy’s help she secured housing in Lotus House.
Betsy’s support paid off. Rachel grew into a secure young woman with countless accomplishments. She attended Miami Dade College and was accepted to and graduated from Florida International University. She was also accepted to and completed the Public Allies signature AmeriCorps Ally Program, which identifies diverse young adults and prepares them for leadership through paid full-time nonprofit apprenticeships and rigorous leadership training.
Rachel has found her voice by giving motivational speeches at local foster care related programs. Her chief message reflects the strong and positive young woman she has become. “I am going to show both the world and myself that I will not add to that number in the statistics about aged out foster kids and that I’m going to break the cycle for both my family and my future family,” proclaims Rachel. Rachel had to do a lot without parents; in her own words, through experience she learned “how to become a woman and a survivor.”
When Rachel aged out of the system, Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) was only beginning to address the problems of transitioning youth. Recently, DCF has worked toward increasing support for this vulnerable population. Now Extended Foster Care offers youth the option to stay in care until they turn 21 and receive financial assistance as they pursue educational and career goals.
Although, at the time, Rachel did not have much support from the system itself, she had her GAL mentor Betsy. Betsy knows first hand how hard it is to guide a teenager, but she says it is always worth it.
Rachel is now the proud mother of a six-month-old girl and happily employed fulltime at Riverside House, a correctional facility. Betsy could not be more delighted to have Rachel in her life. She calls Rachel “a gem on this earth” and insists it is she who is lucky, because she has gained a daughter. The city of Miami is fortunate to have a smart and motivated young woman like Rachel in our community.