“THRU Project got me into a lot of programs. They helped me get out of my mom’s house, my baby dad’s house. They helped me with an apartment. They helped me with the job. They helped me with so many things I can’t even name . . . I never came across having someone who cares. It just feels different.”
Abuse. Addiction. Neglect. Abandonment.
Serenity’s childhood did not live up to her name. As the eldest child in her family, she had to care for her younger siblings because her own mom couldn’t—or wouldn’t—take responsibility for them. Their home life was chaos.
Now 20 years old and a mother herself, Serenity reflects on her traumatic journey to adulthood. She credits help she has received from THRU Project, a San Antonio non-profit that helps former foster youth transition from foster care to independence.
“I entered foster care when I was 15 because my mom got in a fight with her boyfriend at the time and someone, a neighbor, called (Child Protective Services) on us. Throughout my life, she always had boyfriends who were abusive to me and my siblings. My mom was also a substance user. She was addicted to methamphetamine,” she explains.
“I used to fight with my mom a lot, and I used to have to deal with my sister asking me all the time, ‘Why doesn’t mom care for us? Why didn’t she get us back?’ So it was just really hard.”
As a teenager, Serenity says, she fell in with the wrong crowd and avoided being at home. When CPS took the children, it deemed her a runaway.
“I was never home… my mom wasn’t there. I never had her support or help. So when I ran away, it’s not like she noticed. There was too much abuse and verbal abuse going on at home, so it just wasn’t a place for me,” she says. “When we came into foster care, she kept telling us she was going to get us back, but she ended up disappearing for a long time. She kept using drugs.”
After several years, the court severed her mother’s parental rights, and Serenity realized her siblings had slipped away from her.
“As they were growing up in foster care, they were forgetting who I was. It was hard for me because they didn’t recognize me,” she says. “The two youngest ones were adopted by a family. Their names have been completely changed, and I haven’t heard from them since I was 16 years old.”
She says her sister has been missing for over a year after running away from her adoptive home. One brother, who has Down Syndrome, was removed from their mother at birth two years ago. He has bounced around different foster homes, so Serenity has no idea where, or how, he is now.
Serenity says her grandmother once tried to take in all the children, but it was too much for her to manage.
“She gave us back to CPS, and she thinks everything’s fine now. But no. I just ended up aging out of the system and dealing with all the abuse. It’s still the same. My mom is still an active drug user. She still has kids and still loses them. And I still haven’t heard from any of my siblings.”
Serenity exited foster care at age 17 with a baby in tow. “At that time, I was allowed to live back with my mother with the judge’s consent. I decided to go back with my mother, believing she had changed. But it was just the same. And I regretted leaving foster care. I wish I had stayed in it a little longer,” she laments.
She says she worked and cared for her baby as best she could while trying to shelter her daughter from her mother’s dysfunctional world. “Mostly I was back and forth between my baby’s father’s house and my mother’s house.”
At 19, Serenity learned about THRU Project, which provides mentors, cell phones, bus passes, life skills training and safe, affordable housing. It connects aged-out foster youth with social service agencies and other non-profits that have resources to help them become independent adults.
Her mentor helped her find a job in a restaurant as a server, and she has her own apartment with the help of THRU Project’s housing program. Her goal is to go back to school for a business degree.
“THRU Project got me into a lot of programs. They helped me get out of my mom’s house, my baby dad’s house. They helped me with an apartment. They helped me with the job. They helped me with so many things I can’t even name,” she says. “Having someone to rely on… I guess I’m not used to it. Honestly, I don’t want the help, and I say I don’t need it, but then again, it’s just because it’s something I never came across…having someone who cares. It just feels different.”
When she’s having a tough time, Serenity knows she can talk to her mentor. “Even if it’s the smallest little thing, if I had a bad day at work… oh, I’m so frustrated, and she’s there to listen. She’ll call me and she asks me what happened.”
She also can count on THRU Project staff to help guide her past life’s roadblocks.
“It’s amazing how fast they help you, how forward they are. They’re just willing to listen and help you. They don’t want to see you go down a bad road. I like the connection, especially meeting other foster youth… you create a connection with them as well.”
Although Serenity has lost touch with her siblings, she did introduce them once to her little girl. “They didn’t know who I was still, but just the fact I could see them together kind of completed me,” she says.
She also realizes her siblings are in better hands than with their mother.
“That’s what kept me going, because everybody was moving on to a better path,” she says.
To help former foster youth like Serenity: