LA Youth, Los Angeles
(Names have been changed.)
A few years ago, I was in a group home in West Los Angeles. It had the strictest rules I’d ever seen. Everything I did was wrong.
So when my social worker told me I was moving to a foster home, I was thrilled. In a foster home, I thought, I’d have my freedom.
Before I left, the staff and all the kids in my unit threw me a big party. My staff [director] was the DJ and brought his stereo system from home. And the food – we had ice cream, Coke, and my favorite cake with whipped cream and nuts. I felt so special – like a man Cinderella.
But when it came time for me to leave for my new foster home, my social worker called me to say that I wouldn’t be going after all. He told me that I wasn’t suitable for the home because I had too many “incident reports.” They fill out a report for every “incident,” like talking back or going AWOL.
Oh, I was mad. Why couldn’t they have told me that before I packed my stuff and said goodbye to everybody? They were treating me like a string puppet, wanting me to jump to their rhythm. I had no say at all.
All I wanted to do was eat. I didn’t come out of my room at all except at mealtime. I needed three sandwiches per meal to get through the day. I ate hamburgers, cake, everything that they served in the cafeteria. Then I felt happy for a couple of hours.
The staff started putting limits on my food – only one serving. So I’d steal food and hide it in my room to eat by myself later on. In a few months, I went from 150 pounds to 214. I couldn’t fit in my clothes. The other kids called me “Fattie.” One time for P.E. we were jumping rope. I was so weak I fell down.
The staff would ask, “What’s going on?” and I said nothing. I didn’t trust anybody. I didn’t care, and I didn’t want to try to be good. I just slept all the time.
I was getting more and more depressed. Then one day, one of the staff, Kim, came up to me as I was walking on the track. She asked me, “Are you comfortable with who you are?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“No, but seriously,” she said.
I thought about it. I realized I looked like a homeless bum. My hair was torn up and tangled like it had never been touched by shampoo, conditioner or human hands. I wore my favorite maroon sweater all the time because it was big and I didn’t want people to look at me. I hadn’t shaved for days. I was hairy, humongous, and ugly.
“No,” I told her.
“Do you want me to help you?” she asked me.
“OK,” I told her, although I didn’t know exactly what she had in mind. But I was tired of being sad.
Kim turned into my personal trainer. I had to swim, walk and lift weights. Three days a week she did yoga with me. And meals – omigod, I couldn’t eat anything. Mostly salad, and only one serving at each meal.
That wasn’t all. Kim bought me body wash and shampoo. She helped me surround myself with positive things. She threw away my big maroon sweater and told me that if I didn’t come out of my room clean, with my hair brushed, she wouldn’t talk to me.
With her help, I set out to change my attitude. Every morning I said to myself, “Today’s going to be a good day.”
I lost 55 pounds. I felt like a supermodel. When I went on my next home visit, my mom almost fainted. She couldn’t thank my group home staff enough.
I was like a different person. My grades went up, and I was named best student in the yearbook. I also made some new friends – cool friends. If somebody picked on me, they’d stick up for me. Now I’m in a new group home and I feel happier.
It’s hard to always be moving around. I get connected to people and then I have to leave. But I’ve learned to be strong, and to find supportive people like Kim who believe in me.
© 2009 L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and for Los Angeles Teens, http://www.layouth.com.