Shelby Bradford headshot

As far as I remember, it was a good day at school. I went to my normal bus stops waiting to be picked up. Instead of my mom picking me up it was a lady who happened to be staying with us. Being the person I am, I asked a million questions. Never really getting an answer, we pulled up to our trailer and there was a lady who looked professional with a nice car standing there talking to my moms' boyfriend. My mom was still nowhere to be found. Soon after her friend showed up and told me to go inside and get my brother and I a snack. As I went inside I noticed the lights in the fridge wouldn't turn on and the house was a bit of a mess. I heard a faint noise coming from my moms' room. I went closer to the door hearing her voice I got nervous and went back outside. Next thing I remember was crying in the back seat of this nice car. Not even seeing my mom the day I was taken. Trying to be as strong as possible for the people around me. The rest became a blur as we drove away.

These types of memories revisit me in my dreams quite often. I went to three foster homes and then a group home which I stayed for close to nine years. In these placements, I learned a lot of things both good and bad. It seemed my caseworker had just stopped showing up and seemed to forget about us. When I was sixteen, I was moved to a shelter separate from my siblings. It was a locked down facility where all we did was go to school and come home. The workers and volunteer workers were pretty awesome, but always being secluded to my thoughts on a daily basis wasn't helping. Constantly not knowing if this was a place where I could stay to graduate high school. Seeing my time was running out at the shelter I began my own search.

In a regular conversation, I confided in a teacher about my situation and how my time was running out at the shelter. A student overheard me and told me her aunt was a foster parent. I asked this student if I could get her aunt's number; she said that she would have to ask her then get back to me. A couple of days passed, I asked her again. Finally, I got her aunt's number. I called her every day for over a month trying to convince her to take me in.

On February 3, 2014, I was picked up from my high school and told to pack my things from the shelter. I was scared because I wasn't told if I was going to another shelter, RTC, or a foster home. I wasn't told anything until I pulled up to the house. This was a beginning! I moved into my final foster home. That evening, I met Velesha McCalister who I now call my Aunt Lisa. When I first got there, I tried to whole "bad" kid sneaking out and breaking rules thing. While I was doing that, my aunt was very patient with me. She gave the last chance --telling me she knows I could be something. Being her girl and a part of the family, I wasn't allowed to just give up and fail.

That was the first time in my life I ever heard those words. I actually felt like someone needed me to succeed. Feeling as if I was apart of something while being accepted for who I was, I changed my behavior. Everything just seemed to click after that. Even though our skin is not the same I was "her girl" and I was no longer a foster kid with problems. I wasn't just secluded to the house. She gave me a taste of family. My favorite times were when she would cook for pretty much the whole neighborhood. She would have all the neighborhood kids come over to eat and there would still be leftovers. I felt important because she would talk to me when it came to other girls moving into the house or what I wanted or needed. I felt important because I was accepted by her daughters who inspired me to reach higher. She didn't lock anything away from me.

She is the example I would like to see in other foster parents. I found all the real qualities of a parent in this lady who became very special to me, she gave me exactly what youth like me need.

Being a teenager in the system knowing no one likes us, knowing that we pretty much have no options, knowing nothing when it comes to growing up, knowing only what we have seen and taught ourselves to survive; my Aunt Lisa has guided me and showed me all these things even after I aged out of the system. I wasn't just forgotten. Even if our skin color is not the same, she and her family have accepted me for me. She showed me how it feels to be something. I want to make her proud because she helped sculpt me into the person I am today. She gave me a sense of belonging in so many ways.

I believe that foster parents should be like her. They need to realize that we aren't just other people's problem. We are people too! If you don't like to be hit then why hit someone else. If you want to be heard, then act like you can hear us. If you don't want to be fed pills to behave don't do it to us. My Aunt Lisa and her family were the people to me that taught and showed me that people are people and no matter what they have been through or the struggles they have faced as long as you reach that end goal and don't give up you can be anything you put your mind to. I finally had my answer to everything. She was my answer.

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Jun 10, 2017 By slb079