December 11, 2015

If You Think You Got a Plan for Your Life, Forget It

Ms. Alesia’s granddaughter is nicknamed Yaya. When asked about it, Ms. Alesia smiles. “For me, it means ‘yes yes,’ and it also comes from ‘hallelujah.’”

It fits. Yaya has come a long way since her premature birth to parents unable to care for her. At 18 months, she’s affectionate, bright, and a force to be reckoned with, just like her grandmother.

Ms. Alesia had already raised four children—two sons of her own, and two nieces—when she got the call. She had recently retired. A talented seamstress and poet, active in her church, and a confident community leader, her days were hardly dull. Still, her life was quiet and independent.

That all changed when Yaya was born. Ms. Alesia says with a wry smile, “if you think you got a plan for your life, you better forget it.”

She is raising Yaya on her own. “She’s rambunctious,” Ms. Alesia says. “And she’s smart!” She has to chase her down for diaper changes, find babysitters, and create predictable routines for the little girl. Even with these challenges, she’s completely committed to Yaya.

“She’s my heart,” Ms. Alesia says.

It’s About Love

The evening Yaya was born, Ms. Alesia knew something was going to change. It was late in April, and she was worried about her son and his girlfriend, who were expecting a baby. She said a prayer for them, and then felt inspired to write a poem about the clouds rolling by her window. Not long after, her son called. Yaya had arrived early.

RAYS-WestHill-Holiday-102315-0041She met the little girl the next day. Ms. Alesia touched her through the incubator. “She was just a little thing,” she says. She didn’t know what would happen. Her son and his girlfriend asked if she could take in the baby, but she wasn’t sure. However, just a few hours later, she felt compelled to step in.

“I knew I’d care for her,” Ms. Alesia says, “because it’s about love.” And so, at six weeks old, Yaya was released from foster care into her grandmother’s custody.

“I didn’t want to take [her parents’] rights,” Ms. Alesia explains, “but this is the choice her parents have made.” She’s honest about this, and she will be with her granddaughter as she gets older. “I want her to know that her parents couldn’t take care of her, and I have her because I love her.”

RAYS Kinship Care

Ms. Alesia doesn’t have much family support, and she has limited resources. Childcare alone is difficult to cover. Having raised her sister’s children years ago, she knows how challenging being a kinship caregiver can be. This time, she’s determined to get the support she needs. Now, she says, “I want to learn everything I possibly can.”

One place that she finds community and companionship? RAYS and the Kinship Care group at the West Hill Family Center.

RAYS-WestHill-Holiday-102315-0012“My spirit kept telling me to come back here,” Ms. Alesia says of how she found the group. She comes every week to meet with other caregivers in situations to similar to hers. She finds that many of them feel “such despair” because of the care and the work of raising their grandchildren. Ms. Alesia feels called to offer inspiration via poetry and storytelling. “I choose to spread to love,” she says.

She advocates for a “positive mindset,” and says that it’s important for her and the other women in the group to tell their stories. “Not just their grandma stories,” she adds, “but their whole story, their trials and triumphs.”

Most of all, the women know they aren’t alone. “It’s the number one thing that keeps us going,” she says.

Ms. Alesia helps support that sisterhood through the Angel of Hope Play Place, as well. She’s taken it upon herself to host this event frequently at her home so that other foster caregivers can meet and take a break while their children play. The Play Place is inspired by her granddaughter, who she calls her own “angel of hope.”

Meanwhile, Yaya is thriving in Ms. Alesia’s care. Her grandmother firmly believes that she is a “little light” in the world.

“We’re lucky to have each other,” Ms. Alesia says

By Alesia

When the clouds move, where do they go?
Gliding across the sky to and fro.
When the rain falls where does it land?
On a soft tongue or an open hand?
When the snow falls, Why is it cold?
To remind us of the young and the old.
When I whisper your name, what do you hear?
I love you my child have no fear.
FO Day Poetry ©April 2014

Yaya Shoes

October 19, 2015

Please Support the Best Starts for Kids Levy on November 3!

The Best Starts for Kids Levy (King County Proposition 1) is a very important issue that will be on the November 3rd ballot that will arrive at your home this week. Best Starts deserves your strong support as it will provide funds on a County wide basis for proven, effective programs that will significantly improve the health and well-being of children and youth in our communities.

BSFK_1_fbAt a cost of $1 a week for the average home owner, nonprofit organizations can provide programs based on science and research at key stages in the life of children and youth, from prenatal care to programs directed at keeping youth in middle school and high school, and giving them grounding for training or college.

We know that intervention at an early stage in a child’s life will help kids grow up healthy, and arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, and that their odds for completing school successfully dramatically impacts the likelihood of a positive, contributory adulthood. Programs such as the Nurse Family Partnerships and Healthy Start for Kids are existing best practice programs that would be eligible for expansion under this Levy. These programs provide support and education to young parents with first children learn to nurture their new babies and to move through the first year of their children’s lives and provide the basis for later healthy development. We are very clear on the impact of positive intervention on the first 18 months of a child’s life from brain research. This is the crucial support that literally lasts a lifetime.

Research provides a solid basis for the fact that early intervention in a child’s life through the provision of mental health services can effectively combat adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or domestic violence as an example.

We urge your support for the Best Starts Levy. It is an affordable and effective way for each of us to make a lasting and positive difference in the lives of children and youth who live in our community. The Board of Directors of Renton Area Youth and Family Services fully endorses this Levy. We kindly encourage you to read more about the Best Starts levy.

June 5, 2015

Graduation at the Most Diverse High School in the Country

One of the many schools that RAYS is happy to support is Foster High School in Tukwila. The Tukwila School District is one of the most diverse in the country. With just 5 schools, the student body represents many cultures and ethnic groups and speak more than 60 world languages. Over 80% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch and many of the families live in transitional housing. The students at Foster are truly inspiring.

Graduation is a time to celebrate achievements, reaching goals and overcoming obstacles. Perhaps even more so at Foster High School. Jennifer Nuckols, one of our counselors at Foster, was honored to attend the ceremony last year. As the 2015 class comes close to their graduation day (June 12th), Jennifer shares her thoughts about Foster’s graduation. We at RAYS wish all of the graduating students a happy, healthy future. We can’t wait to see how you impact our world.

Foster High School Graduation

By Jennifer Nuckols

The most diverse school district in the country
African-American, Argentinian, Bhutanese, Black, Bosnian, Ethiopian, Hmong, Mexican, Mixed, Samoan, Somali, Vietnamese, White
All have sat in my blue Ikea couch chair.
The loudspeaker warbles the words of the commencement speaker, the daughter of a
Bosnian refugee:
We represent the unity of the worldbeauty

When the principal leads the pledge of allegiance, I am the only one in my section of the bleachers who knows the words.
But even without reciting it,
they understand the dream, the promise of
liberty and justice for all
because today, their daughter is the first from their family to graduate high school.
This is what they have worked for, yearned for –
for their next generation.

Today they celebrate with
Congrats Grad! balloons (some float up and away during the ceremony),
layers of peanut butter cup and bubble gum candy leis,
an out-of-tune performance of Pomp and Circumstance,
new high heel shoes,
posters plastered with computer print-out pictures of their grad,
yells and screams and chants
that are occasionally drowned out by the airplanes passing overhead
– this is the town that neighbors SeaTac airport –
where some first arrived from their country,
where others will never walk onto a plane.

For almost every student who proudly hoists up their diploma,
there is one who has not, who will not.

I know both their stories.
She had a baby April, came back to school and finished all her missing work.
He struggled with depression and in the end, could not make it out of bed to come to school.
He won a turn-around scholarship, raising a 0.4 GPA to a 3.4 GPA in two years.
She was suspended three weeks before the end of school for marijuana possession and never came back.
She stayed on the honor roll after her parents kicked her out and she couched surfed with friends.
He got his girlfriend pregnant and left school to start working for diaper money.

Today with their families
we celebrate the victories
the sacrifices
the future plans
the diversity,
and work and yearn for those who are absent