Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I’d like to tell you a little about myself. My name is Tacinda Johnson and I am 18 years old. My friends call me Tasha.
My sister Raven and I lived in Miami when our mother passed away in 2005. Raven was 8 and I was 10 years old. A friend of my mom’s took us to Georgia, but the situation there wasn’t good. After a few years, we came back to Florida to live with a relative in Bradenton. That didn’t work out either, so in 2011 we were placed in foster care. During the next 2 ½ years we lived in the Girls Group Home in Bradenton.
On my 18th birthday last November 17th, everything I had was packed up and moved out of the group home and into my own apartment. Under the old system I didn’t have a choice – when you turned 18 you were basically on your own. Now kids can stay in foster care until they are 21 so they are more prepared to be on their own and take care of themselves.
I know a lot of you would think that this is every teen’s dream, to live on their own. Believe me it was hard and scary, especially those first weeks. I felt alone. I didn’t have the other girls from the group home around, my sister Raven was not with me, and I was still in my senior year at Southeast High. All of a sudden I was responsible for rent, telephone, utilities, getting to school on my own, everything, but I had help from some important people.
I want to say thank you to my Case Manager, Nikkieda Rutland and Miss Moon, the Group Home parent. But the main person who has helped me for over 2 years is my Guardian ad Litem, Miss Karen Hack.
Senior year is important and she made sure I had a great year! She put in for me to get financial help from the Children’s Guardian Fund so I was able to go to homecoming. They helped me pay for graduation invitations plus my cap and gown. Thanks to them, I was able to get my senior prom dress and go on the Senior Trip to Universal Studios in Orlando.
A lot of teens take things for granted. I don’t. Because my Guardian ad Litem and the Children’s Guardian Fund cared, I was able to have a great senior year, just like everyone who graduates from high school should.
After graduating Miss Karen helped me complete my registration for MTI and in August I started cosmetology classes. I had to buy a $450.00 kit for school. Financial aid would not pay for it, and the Coalition couldn’t help me either. I have a part-time job, but there was no way I could afford the kit on my own. My guardian requested help from Children’s Guardian Fund. They came through and paid for the kit.
I could go on and on about many things that my Guardian ad Litem and the Children’s Guardian Fund helped me with over the years. But, more than just paying for things, they showed me there are people who care and want the best for me and for other teens like me.
A really big challenge for me and other teens leaving foster care is transportation. Living in a group home and then on your own, you don’t have a family that can teach you to drive and help you get a car or let you drive theirs.
It is a struggle every day to get to class at MTI. There is no public transportation to school and I don’t have a car. Something as simple as a Ride Share Board isn’t allowed on campus, so I am constantly trying to get a ride with another student. If no one is available, I have to miss my classes. Having a ride to school – which most people take for granted – is a big road block to my future. It shouldn’t be that way.
In October, I finally got my learner’s permit and I am enrolled in a Children’s Guardian Fund program called Bridge to the Future. The driver’s ed program is a pilot program for 10 kids to get their permit, have a 25-hour driver’s ed course and get the experience we need so we can really learn how to drive! The last part of the course is to take my test to get my driver’s license and then I’m going to work on saving money for a car. Having a driver’s license and eventually my own car, will really help me and lots of other teens reach our goals and dreams. Thanks to the Children’s Guardian Fund, I am on my way!
Sure there have been some mistakes along the way, but I know I just have to keep pushing forward. Miss Karen has helped me understand to learn from the mistakes. I know that everything I have done during the last year will make me stronger in the future. I’m still scared sometimes, and feel alone, but I know I can do it. I will succeed!
In high school, there were Booster Clubs for all the different sports teams. For me, my boosters have been Miss Karen and the Children’s Guardian Fund. Maybe some of you would like to be boosters, too, by helping to support the Children’s Guardian Fund so they can keep helping kids like me.
I want to say thanks for all the help along the way and most of all, for supporting and believing in me—Tasha Johnson.
Thank you ALL!!!