“…it was evident that they saw us
as family and not just as a case to be managed.”
My journey through the Virginia foster care system is one that, sadly, is all too common for many young girls and boys across the United States. My outcome, however, is truly one of a kind. Most children that wind up in foster care usually end up remaining in the system in some form or fashion; whether it be through incarceration, institutionalization or still dependent on government resources for one reason or another. As is the case for most foster children, I had many unsuccessful placements that were short lived. Through the grace of God though, I found a lifetime home with Gatewood Children’s Home.
In my early childhood, I grew up in a single parent home with little attention or care given to my development or discipline and my main source of supervision and guidance being in the form of a teenaged sibling. My late 30s biological mother was diagnosed manic-depressive and bipolar early in my life without having had any care prior as it pertained to her mental instability. This contributed greatly to her lack of care and neglect of me, her youngest of three, along with long hours at a job barely covering our household expenses and needs. I was about eight or nine years old (my memories of those early years are still hazy) when I was removed from my mother’s care by child protective services and institutionalized for basically the same mental concerns as my mother.
After my residential stay in the institution in Hampton, Virginia I was relocated to a northern Virginia foster care agency. I was supervised and cared for by several very nice couples in about three different foster homes with a few respite stays in between while they vacationed or had put me out for one behavioral concern or another. The source of my behavioral issues stemmed from never really feeling like I belonged in their families and my anger caused by believing my biological mother’s claims that she was doing all in her power to bring me home when I knew she was in no stable condition for me to ever return home. This ensued for three years through my middle school education and by the summer before high school was to begin, my caseworker decided that maybe it was time we tried something different. From there I was shipped back to my birth city of Richmond, Virginia for a whole new type of care in a place called a group home.
I arrived in Richmond to begin residence at Saint Joseph’s Villa for a time until I was placed in Hamlet House where I began my freshman year of high school. This new living experience seemed pretty cool to me; no strange family was trying to replace my mother, I was going to a regular school with other normal teenagers and I lived with other girls with experiences not unlike my own past. Hamlet House and my next placement group home, the name of which escapes me, were unsuccessful due to differences and physical disputes between myself and other hormonal, emotionally damaged teenaged girls. It was then that I was placed with my forever family at Gatewood Children’s Home.
The love and personal attention given to me at Gatewood was unlike any other. The owners, Kiva and Tony, came to visit us regularly and took us on individual outings. They took us on vacation with them just like we were their own children; it was evident that they saw us
as family and not just as a case to be managed. One other main contributor to our development was the love of Christ that they displayed. They did not mandate that we attend church but it was heavily encouraged and if there were issues with us, they prayed for and with us. I almost finished out high school from their home but I became too grown for my britches and started showing my tail; I snuck out and began spazzing out on the staff, unwilling to be bound by any rules but my own.
From Gatewood Children’s Home, I was in care at one last group home just before I graduated high school and went away to college the next fall. Even though I did not remain at Gatewood, Kiva and Tony remained my parents. They were there to get me ready for senior prom, they supported me through graduation and they even purchased my college items and drove me four hours away to attend! This is huge for a college freshman. When I had a school break, it was their personal home that I returned to where I had my own room. Talk about continued care, Gatewood Children’s Home offers a lifetime of genuine love if a child is willing to receive it!
I did not graduate college due to a life-threatening car accident and lack of motivation to return after the spring of my sophomore year but the Gatewood’s were there through it all. I remained grounded and connected to God as I grew because of the work of love that began at Gatewood Children’s Home. I am stronger in Christ now than I ever have been and I truly believe this contributes to my mental stability and success in life. Even to this day, I am 29 years old and married with children and it is them that we visit when I return home for the holidays. It is them that my husband and I consult for marital advice and even financial help from time to time. They are my children’s grandparents and my husband considers them his in-laws. Kiva and Tony are my mom and dad and we will always be connected because they are committed to changing the lives of children through proper mental health care, emotional support and the love of Christ.
-GKM, Former Jordan House and Gates to Success ILA resident.