Guest post by Adrienne Drew, External Relations Manager for Eckerd Community Alternatives and Eckerd Kids Programming in Tampa Bay.
When I first met James last summer during our Camps for Champs program, I knew he had something special about him. He was eager to learn and be in front of the camera, but I could tell he also had a shy and timid side to him. I was lucky enough to form a special bond with James and keep him touch with him throughout the past year.
Throughout the year, I started seeing more and more of James at events and hearing about all of the exciting things he was doing through the Independent Living program with Camelot Community Care and Eckerd. When I first met James, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. I remember he told me that he wasn’t sure when he turned 18, if he would continue working the program or not. Looking at James now, he has certainly made the right decision, and is still in the program!
In the past few months, James has not only decided to continue the program, but he also started college, earned his driving permit, bought a car, is in the process of getting a job and has moved out of his group home and into his own apartment since turning 18!
James fist entered foster care in December of 2014. Like many teenagers he had a rough start and was skipping school, throwing parties and overall acting out. As James starting approaching his 18th birthday, he started to wonder … do I really want this to be my life? He decided it was time for him to start using the resources at hand available through Eckerd. This life-changing moment started when James was chosen to participate in the Camps for Champs program in the summer of 2015. Following that, he obtained his GED and got a job. James said, “I didn’t want to be a foster care bum anymore or have to ever worry about money!”
As time went on, James continued to impress his case manager and many others. He decided to get involved with the Keys to Independence program. Through this program, James was able to obtain a state ID as his previously forms of identification were lost just like many other of our foster youth. He also earned his driving permit and then his real license. James also became involved with Florida Youth Shine where he was able to travel to Miami and then to Tallahassee twice for the first time! James plans on continuing his involvement with Florida Youth Shine until he is 24 and even wants to be on their board of directors.
James has high expectations of himself and many future plans. When college starts, James wants to earn his degree in criminology and following graduation would like to work with foster care youth and the Department of Children and Families. In addition, he plans on becoming a Guardian Ad Litem as soon as possible because he wants to be able to give back, just as others have given to him throughout his time in care. James said, “Just knowing somebody is in your corner when you are in foster care can make you feel better and that is the purpose of having a good Guardian Ad Litem.”
James says for youth entering foster care, they should make sure they use all of the resources available to them. As we all know foster care is not an ideal situation, but James says, “Its only bad if you give up … so don’t give up!”
As for James, his next adventures include studying abroad, taking a trip to DC and driving every chance he gets!