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No Longer Lost
Aisha Finds the Hope She Spent a Lifetime Looking for at Mercy Home
There was a time when Aisha would have never been in this situation; she would never even have imagined it. As a little girl, she had hopes, dreams, and plans for her future. She wanted to be a firefighter, a ballerina, a princess, a teacher.
But now she didn’t see the point of dreaming or hoping for anything at all.
Because when Aisha was 7 years old, everything changed. Her mother died from cancer. Aisha knew her mother had been sick, but she never imagined that she wouldn’t get better. Her death was a total shock.
“In an instant, it felt like I lost everything,” Aisha remembered. “Not just my mom, but my whole life.”
With her father never in the picture and her mother having no close family, Aisha was put into foster care. And, many years later, Aisha found herself on a dead-end path. With plans to drop out of school and her current foster mom threatening to throw her out if she did, the only things Aisha could look forward to were homelessness and doing odd jobs to survive.
The transition to foster care was difficult. She went from being the only child in the home of a devoted parent to bouncing from place to place, each new home bringing a new challenge.
In an instant, it felt like I lost everything.
The difficulties Aisha faced in her foster homes ran the gamut. In some homes, there were so many children that it was impossible for any of them to get the attention and care they needed. One of the first homes she stayed in was located in a dangerous neighborhood, where Aisha was too afraid to even play in her backyard. And worst of all, one of her foster dads was abusive to her. The shame and guilt she felt about what happened to her seemed to settle over every part of her life, casting a shadow – even on moments that should have been joyful.
As Aisha grew older, her motivation to succeed in school dropped. She never stayed in one place long enough to build a relationship with a foster parent or teacher who could help and encourage her to do well in school.
The things she saw in her neighborhood didn’t help either. Many people didn’t even have a high school degree, and worked low paying jobs. None of her friends were very motivated about school, either.
“I figured if they didn’t see the point, why should I?” Aisha said.
Failing a number of her classes, Aisha announced her plan to her new foster mother to drop out of high school. She was used to apathy from her foster parents, so it shocked her when her foster mom had a strong negative reaction to her decision.
“Nobody really cared what I did growing up,” Aisha explained. “Most of my foster parents didn’t even notice if I went to school. I didn’t like being told what to do.”
Aisha’s foster mother spent days trying to talk Aisha out of her decision. But she remained stubborn about it–she no longer wanted to be in school. This led to loud and long fights every night. It was exhausting.
Desperate and out of options, Aisha’s foster mom told her that if she dropped out of school, she would also be kicked out of the house. Aisha snapped back that she didn’t care, but privately, she was terrified. She knew several people in her community that had been, or still were, homeless. It was a difficult life she felt totally unprepared for.
After learning of Aisha’s plan to drop out of school, her guidance counselor called a meeting with Aisha and her foster mom. Aisha expected a lecture and more threats. Instead, she was offered a sliver of hope, the first she had received in a long time.
The guidance counselor pulled up Mercy Home’s website and discussed the many benefits we could offer her, including tutors to help her bring up her grades, therapy to help her deal with everything she had gone through, as well as job and internship opportunities for her to explore.
Part of Aisha wanted to keep the tough facade she had fashioned to hide how sad and afraid she was inside. But she also knew that this might be her last chance to regain the hope she lost so many years ago. Aisha agreed to move in.
At first, everything was difficult. So used to moving around, Aisha assumed that Mercy Home’s coworkers would give up on her soon and she would be forced to leave. She refused to engage with the other girls and fought with our coworkers.
“I guess I was trying to test everyone to see how far I could push them,” Aisha said. “I thought if I was bad enough, I could prove that they didn’t care about me.”
Instead, Aisha was shocked that no matter what she did, no matter how badly she behaved, our coworkers continued to treat her with respect and kindness, reminding her that they cared about her. Aisha had never experienced that kind of unconditional love–at least not since her mother died.
I guess I was trying to test everyone to see how far I could push them.
Eventually, Aisha made an important decision. She could continue to fight against the program at Mercy Home, or she could give it a try to see if it worked. She decided to give it a try.
To her surprise, as soon as she stopped working against the staff in her program and started working with them, things started to improve. Her school resources coordinator realized that Aisha wasn’t receiving the support she needed at her current school, and enrolled her in a different school that could meet her specific needs.
Aisha also began working with her tutor, instead of sitting in a stony silence and refusing to do any work. With just these changes, she was surprised that her grades begin to raise. Within six months, Aisha was on her school’s honor roll, an accomplishment she could have never even fathomed.
With some hesitation, Aisha also began opening up to the other girls about some of things she experienced growing up. It was comforting to know that many of them had also faced similar struggles. Over time, Aisha built strong friendships with the other girls, brought together by their commitment to building a brighter future for themselves.
Aisha and her foster mom also participated in family therapy together. Aisha couldn’t believe that her foster mom didn’t abandon her like so many others had in the past. After some difficult conversations, Aisha began to understand and appreciate her foster mom’s point of view.
“I thought my foster mom was against me,” Aisha said. “I didn’t understand that she wanted the best for me. The way she acted didn’t make sense to me at the time. But I’m grateful for her now.”
Today, Aisha has dreams again. She dreams of going to college, possibly to become a guidance counselor like the one who helped her find a better path. But there is something she no longer needs to dream about: having a true place to call home.
“Mercy Home is the first place that’s felt like a real home since my mom died,” she said. “I used to think I would be alone forever. But now I know I have a family to support me.”