Could you imagine not having a place to call “home” as a child? That your reality of home, family structure and way of life was decided for you by a government agency? Perhaps you can’t even imagine. Or, perhaps you can relate.
Meet Sarah, who has been in the foster care system since she was 1-month-old. Read of how Sarah’s experiences have fueled her determination to live a joyful and healthy life – and how she discovered a passion for the culinary arts.
Sarah is a smart teenager with eyes wide open to life. At the young age of 15, you could easily mistake Sarah for being well-beyond her years and preparing for a legal case given how well-versed she is about the foster care system. Not to her own fault, Sarah grew up in the system, which she has known as her only home.
“I didn’t get into the system for something I did. I couldn’t have, I was a baby. My mom had to do something,” shares Sarah.
Sarah was born to a 32-year-old mother with a mental disorder, who unfortunately was not seeking help to address her challenges. Instead, her mother served as a harmful presence. At 1-month-old, Sarah was removed from her harmful home in Riverside and transferred to San Diego. Since then, Sarah has lived in over 3 cities, 3 foster group homes and 2 states.
“From the time I was 8 to 13-years-old, I thought I was going to get placed in a home, but my heart would be broken over and over again. It wasn’t a great feeling that my life wasn’t going to be normal. It’s not like I’d be saying, ‘Mom, I’m going to the beach with my friends, see you later.’ By 13, I accepted that I would have to learn how to do things on my own, make money and go grocery shopping and stuff.”
Sarah first came to the Center when she was 5-years-old and then returned at the age of 11 to live again in the Residential Treatment Program. During this time, Sarah received educational support and therapeutic services to address her severe traumatic experiences and her bipolar and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders.
After Sarah was discharged from the Center due to her positive progress, her life went down a less positive path. Negative influences resulted in Sarah spending 2 ½ years in lockdown – a juvenile facility for children with no criminal offense history.
“I was upset a lot. Confused, where I was going to go in the system and what was going to happen to me. After being in lockdown, I ran away from the group home I lived in. I was mad and did things in order to get by.”
During this turbulent time, Sarah became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Sarah reflected on her life and the life she wanted to provide for her baby. Sarah didn’t want her baby to experience the life of turmoil, loss of hope and pain she knew herself too well. Sarah came back to the Center in 2015 to attend the Academy while living in a foster group home. A part of Sarah’s curriculum at the Academy included culinary arts in the Center’s Clark Adolescent Program kitchen.
“I was scared when I first started cooking. I didn’t want to do it, get by the stove or anything. My therapist mentioned it might have something to do with me being traumatized as a young child, but I don’t remember.”
Sarah worked slowly through her fears and hesitations to become a natural in the kitchen. Through her interactions with Tina Reyes, Life Skills Manager of the Center, Sarah learned about healthy nutrition, cooking with various vegetables and their health benefits, cooking techniques and use of basic cooking tools.
“Now I love to cook. I’m not afraid of the kitchen. In my group home, I’m the one in the kitchen cooking and telling other kids in the home of how easy it is and healthy it is to cook your own food. I really like the sauce that Tina taught me how to make. It has garlic, lemon juice, broth and seasoning. I put it on my fish because it’s my favorite thing to cook and it’s healthy.”
Tina learned that Sarah was a young mother toward the final classes of the 2016 school year. Inspired by Sarah’s deep interest in the culinary arts and impressive questions, Tina offered to teach Sarah private classes in the Clark kitchen focused on making baby food. Sarah was excited for this opportunity to continue her passion for cooking during the Academy’s Extended School Year summer program.
“As a mom myself, I felt it was important for Sarah to not only learn of proper nutrition for her baby, but also the importance of learning how to cook for her child,” says Tina.
Over a one-month period, Tina taught Sarah about nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, cost-effective approaches to cooking, and meal planning specifically for an infant. When Sarah cooked in the Clark kitchen, a sense of pride, focus and determination was clearly visible. What Sarah cooked was then provided to her baby during their weekly visits together. Sarah would then modify ingredients at the next class based on what her baby enjoyed. Sarah found an avenue to be creative in her cooking that was guided by the love she has for her baby girl.
“I think I’m pretty good at being a mom, and I thank Tina for teaching me how to cook for my baby. I want to be a stable mom for her, give her a permanent place that allows things to be stable in her life not like how it was for me. I need to keep going with my education, take my therapy and use what they teach me in therapy and anger management. My daughter is my motivation to succeed.”
An end goal of the Center is to ensure children and teens are equipped with the tools needed to continue their treatment success when they transition back into their community. The Center wishes Sarah the very best as she continues her passion for cooking and drive to complete her therapeutic and academic goals near a location by her group home.
*The teen’s name has been replaced in order to protect their identity.
Help a child like Sarah…
To bring hope to a child as a loving parental figure and role model, please click here to learn about our foster family programs.
Unable to provide a home for a child, but interested in making a difference? Click here to donate to help a child receive therapeutic, educational, foster care and transition services.