Every child deserves a family – one that loves unconditionally, supports wholeheartedly, provides safety and guidance continuously, one that doesn’t judge or criticize, one that builds a strong foundation for the adult you will become.
April* didn’t have that kind of family.
She was born to teenage parents who didn’t have access to supportive services so they placed her for adoption at the age of 2. A middle-class couple with a biological daughter adopted April. She found a family.
Active and curious, April wanted to explore everything – how things worked, what they tasted like, how they felt. Shunned by her adoptive mother for being too outgoing, April was locked in her room for months at a time. Separated from toys, books and human contact, April interacted with her family only when she had to attend school. The cruelty continued when her hair was cut off and she was made fun of for her weight, personality and clothing. April began running away when she was 8.
She remembers the worst day of her life. It was Thanksgiving – a day for family. She and her sister were childishly bantering over who was more special to their mother when her mother told April she wasn’t her child but adopted instead. April remembers crying in disbelief and confusion. Instead of comfort, she received slaps and chastisement for embarrassing her mother. April said it was at that moment that her mother made her painfully aware that she wasn’t wanted or good enough. The emotional and physical abuse continued until the authorities became involved.
April was placed in her first residential facility until the staff insisted she could return home. Her mother never arrived to get her, so she bounced from one foster family to another until she arrived at Youth In Need at the age of 14. She was angry, scared, untrusting and doubtful.
But it was at Youth In Need’s Cornerstone group home that April experienced what it might be like to have a family that cared about her future. She learned to cook, clean, groom herself, apply make-up, do homework and respect herself. She received an allowance, went shopping, watched Saturday morning cartoons, went bowling and even on a vacation.
Her adoptive mother eventually resurfaced to take her home. When April left Youth In Need, she remembers the staff telling her things that a supportive family would say. They told her she was special, smart and funny. They told her to face the world bravely and do the right things.
Once back at home, the abuse continued, and April continued to falter through periods of running away, suicide attempts, drinking and self-sabotage. Emancipated and homeless at 17, April became actively involved in a gang, sold drugs and continued to make bad decisions.
She decided to enlist in the Air Force, knowing that if she didn’t make a drastic change in her life, she would end up in prison or worse – dead. Three days before she turned 18, April found out she was pregnant and unable to join the Air Force as planned.
Again, she was alone, scared and angry. And again, she was without family. She knew she couldn’t raise her child in a gang, so she reached out to Youth In Need one more time. Without hesitation, Youth In Need accepted April back – just like a family does.
She joined the Transitional Living Program group home, a program that offers the opportunity for youth to learn from their successes and mistakes through case management services, life skills instruction, goal setting and group and individual therapy. The group home houses up to 10 clients, ages 16 to 21, in a comfortable home-like setting. Residents have access to basic needs including housing, food, safety and financial security. In addition, program participants are encouraged to be involved in an educational program, to be employed and regularly save a portion of their income so that they are financially able to live independently once they leave the program.
Over time, April developed trust with a few Youth In Need staff, including President and CEO Pat Holterman-Hommes.
“This enabled her to open up and begin to share her experiences and heal from her pain,” Pat said. “She was able to be more successful in school and to develop more positive peer relationships, as well.”
Staff encouraged April to get her GED and to attend birthing classes. They even threw her a baby shower. And Youth In Need was there when her son Justin was born, just like any family would celebrate the arrival of a new member.
Now, at 32, April has two children – a family of her very own. She coaches sports for her children and teaches CPR and first aid. She is a full-time student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she is studying pre-med, majoring in philosophy with a minor in biology. Her dream is to attend medical school and impact the lives of youth who were once lost like her.
About Youth In Need
Youth In Need offers more than 50 direct service and support programs to children, teens and families. They provide residential homes, foster care case management, homeless outreach, counseling and support groups, education and infant, child and family development to more than 20,000 children, teens and families at more than 40 sites, spanning 100-miles, in six counties in eastern Missouri. Youth In Need has been a United Way funded agency since 1977.