Paying It Forward

When Shannon Daily, house parent at the Arnette House, was teaching a Life Skills class to foster youth in the Independent Living (IL) program, she never imagined the reaction she would elicit from one of the girls. A few months before Christmas 2013, during a normal Life Skills class, Shannon taught a lesson entitled, Your Past Does Not Define Who You Become in the Future. During the lesson, she shared Rachel’s story of resilience.

As the story goes, Shannon knew a family for years. The mother had a baby named Rachel. Mom abused substances and was in the clutches of addiction. At times, the mother would disappear leaving Rachel with her grandmother, who was unfortunately an alcoholic. Periodically, Rachel’s mother would return, combat her addiction, become sober and redeem Rachel only to relapse again leaving Rachel again and again with the grandmother. Just before becoming a teenager, Rachel’s mother was found dead behind a dumpster. It was uncovered that her mother was participating in prostitution to solicit drugs and was killed while participating in this lifestyle.

All the while during Rachel’s stay at her grandmother’s house, the grandmother struggled financially. To help support them, the grandmother rented one of their rooms to a man for some extra money. The man began molesting Rachel. The abuse continued for years until Rachel became pregnant by the man at only 13 years old. Rachel decided to continue the pregnancy and gave birth to a little girl. Her decision angered her grandmother who abandoned Rachel. While pregnant and later, with an infant, Rachel was forced to live on the streets or with anyone who would take her in.

At 16 years old, she met a man who promised to take care of her and she married him. They moved to North Carolina and bought a home. Rachel began her own house cleaning business and gave birth to two boys with her husband. Things seemed to be going well. When the economy took a turn for the worse, Rachel lost her house cleaning business and all the clients she had worked so hard to obtain. Due to all the stress, things became rough at home and her husband left. Rachel lost her house and found herself homeless again along with her three children. Hoping to make a fresh start and determined not to lose her three children, Rachel made her way back to Florida. She  found a job working in a local hotel as a housekeeper and saved up enough money to rent a 10’ x 20’ tool shed that had been converted into an efficiency apartment. It contained a stove, refrigerator, shower, toilet and bed. Shannon ended by sharing how Rachel was continuing to work and refused to give up.

Rachel’s story shared by Shannon moved and inspired Walquiria, a youth in the Life Skills class. She was also a member of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC). Walquiria wanted to do something to help Rachel and her children. She approached Shannon after the class and expressed her desire to help. She didn’t want to see Rachel’s kids end up in foster care like she had.

Professionals who know Walquiria were not surprised to hear of her reaction. She is described as a “sweet girl” who “has a heart for giving” and “loves taking care of others”.  Walquiria took Rachel’s story and her needs to YAC. As a group, they decided to help Rachel’s family for Christmas. Thanks to a fundraising car wash held earlier in 2013, the group had funds available to purchase clothes for the family. They also worked with Kids Central’s Resource Center to gather other household items needed. Speaking about the group’s generosity, Shannon said, “It’s not every day you see kids without a self-entitled attitude.”

Moving forward, Walquiria expressed she plans to take the blessings to this family a step further. Shannon shared how the group is looking into working with the Habitat for Humanity to help build Rachel’s family a home that she will not lose. A home that her children will feel safe in with room to run and play as kids should. Furthermore, YAC is hoping to contribute the volunteer hours the family would be required to contribute, since Rachel is a single mom who works full time.

Rashad Jones, who mentors the YAC group, was “blown away by the group’s ability to look beyond the frustrations of their current situations and develop such a heartfelt and impactful plan of generosity for a family in need.” When asked what he thought the youth took away from the generosity they showed Rachel and her kids, he answered, “The kids realized how powerful they are as a group of leaders coming together as YAC.  The idea that a group of young individuals who all have experienced the ups and downs of foster care, coming together, organizing activities, raising money, synthesizing attainable ideas, forging those ideas into reality and mobilizing to take action that produces tangible change is nothing short of amazing.  This experience showed our youth their potential to make a positive difference.  It showed them that their situation and label of ‘foster care youth’ has absolutely no power to limit them in their ideas and efforts in life.  It showed them so many great things that I’m sure they are still processing it in their minds and hearts.  Generosity is a powerful tool in the hands of whoever wields it, because wherever we see heartfelt and authentic generosity, we will see a positive change.  That positive change not only resides with the recipients of generosity, it also touches the heart of the one(s) extending a helping hand.  It showed our youth that they are amazing individuals and that YAC has a world of potential.”

This truly was an amazing act of paying it forward by children who have grown up in the Florida foster care system. Encourage YAC and further community support by supporting  their car wash on April 26th.