For NATASHA, her early years were a true challenge. Entering care at the age of 14, she struggled with mental illness and building her confidence. Now 22, she is an advocate with the Children’s Aid Foundation and, recently, served as a youth ambassador at five14 Talks. With scholarship funding from the Foundation, she was able to complete her post-secondary education, have time to pursue karate, and hopes to attend law school in the future.
*The opinions and views expressed in this article are that of the youth in profile, and not necessarily reflective of the official opinion or position of the Children’s Aid Foundation.
I feel like I wouldn’t have strived for success so relentlessly if I hadn’t gone into foster care, because I probably wouldn’t feel such a sense of urgency in life. Because I’ve been through so much and yet managed to pull through and do so well in school, my confidence has gone from zero to unbreakable.
“I grew-up in a family where my parents had divorced and it was a very contentious environment. I had a lot of psychological issues; I had depression and became overweight since the age of six. I also had extreme anxiety, and just didn’t understand what was going on because there was really no awareness of mental health at that time, in both my family and community. By the time I became a teenager, I was acting-out. I was having a really hard time and dropped-out of school in grade nine. I was so, so depressed.”
“In total, I lived in three foster homes. I was 14 when I entered my first foster home, and after that foster parent became sick, I moved into another foster placement. I tried to make the best of that placement, but after a year I desperately needed to get out. Then I got sent back to my hometown to live in another foster home, which ended-up being a really negative experience. I transitioned to independent living when I was 16-years-old because I didn’t want to live in any other foster homes; I felt really disrespected during my time in care [because I felt like my voice wasn’t being heard].”
“I think care put everything into perspective for me, and helped me realize what’s important in my life. I feel like I wouldn’t have strived for success so relentlessly if I hadn’t gone into foster care, because I probably wouldn’t feel such a sense of urgency in life. Because I’ve been through so much and yet managed to pull through and do so well in school, my confidence has gone from zero to unbreakable.”
“Coming into care is an intensely isolating experience. It sort of guarantees psychological trauma, and that needs to be recognized.”
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to financially invest in karate if it wasn’t for the Children’s Aid Foundation. I’ve never really been good at sports, and I’ve never liked playing team sports. I started karate because my cousins were taking it, and I wanted a way to relate to them better. I had tried to go to the gym in the past, but I never had the ‘motivation’ to keep going. I thought that my lack of motivation was due to laziness, but after trying karate, I realized that I needed to have fun, laugh, and form meaningful bonds with people in order to stay fit and motivated. I started really respecting the people [at my karate classes]; at first I was intimidated by them because of how amazingly talented they were, but now I understand that all I have to do is keep it up, train with all my might day by day, and eventually I will become awesome at karate too, guaranteed. I always felt like if I wasn’t 115 lbs. and had beautifully-styled hair and clear skin, nobody would want to talk to me, and I was worth nothing. And, I started doing karate, and I really started respecting the other people who [I was training with]. It made me realize how little superficial things matter in the grand scheme of life – I admire these people for their talents, perseverance, and creativity.”
“The only reason I’m doing financially well right now is because I’m in school, which is ironic. Most people in full-time school have a part-time job, which is really draining and hard. I’ve had odd part-time jobs here and there, like I was working at my school’s farmer’s market as the assistant manager, but that was only one day a week. If I wasn’t given the funding from the Children’s Aid Foundation, I would’ve taken a break from school, because you only get this type of funding because you’re in school full-time. The funding keeps you on track, which might seem a bit [restrictive], but I can’t think of anything else that would motivate someone as much to finish school.”
“Right now, I have my sights set on law school. [For a long time] I didn’t have the self-confidence to feel like I could be a lawyer; I felt like that was a ‘somebody’ job, and I was a ‘nobody’. With Foundation funding, I was able to go to Germany this past summer and learn how to speak to German, which was an amazing experience. It changed me in a big way and really built my self-esteem. I realized, after that experience, if I could go and travel and learn another language, I could do anything — including law school; why should I limit myself?”