SARASOTA — Mitchivena “Mimi” Tresalus was raised in Haiti and sent to live in the United States when she was 7.
Her childhood experience was filled both with verbal and physical abuse and being moved from home to home. In the course of her young life, she lived in nine different foster homes, as well as a group home.
“There was no constant in my life,” Tresalus said. “At one point, I didn’t even want to live.”
But the bright spot came through the Guardian ad Litem program, where she finally found the support she needed through her guardians. “When people began to care about me, I began to care about myself,” she said.
Today, Tresalus has her U.S. citizenship, has reconnected with her mother in Haiti, has her own apartment and is going to cosmetology school.
On Thursday — her 21st birthday — she shared her story at the Children’s Guardian Fund’s 22nd annual Fall Luncheon, with its theme “Helping Our Kids Soar.”
Her immigration attorney and friend Wendy Cox presented her with a necklace inscribed with a poem by Maya Angelou: “Lift up your eyes upon this day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream.”
Nearly 350 guests came out to the event at Michael’s on East to support the fund, which provides financial support for children in foster and state care in Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit, encompassing Bradenton, Sarasota and DeSoto counties. The fund, established in 1995, also supports the Guardian ad Litem program, in which volunteers act as child advocates as they move through dependency court (children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned).
More than 1,400 children (50 percent of whom are under 5 years of age) are currently in our area’s foster system, a number that has grown dramatically during the last several years because of increasing drug use, according to Board President Carol Belmont.
The mission of the Children’s Guardian Fund is to “insert a sense of normalcy” into these children’s lives, said board member and Guardian ad Litem Michael Cogswell. This includes providing academic tutoring, music lessons, summer camp, sports uniforms, driving lessons and helping with prom, homecoming and graduation expenses, among other things — all of which help provide some stability for these vulnerable children.
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