Thousands of kids in North Carolina are removed from bad, unhealthy situations and placed into foster care in hopes they will get a second chance.
Some have happy endings, while others age out of the system at 18 and end up on their own.
21-year-old Milizhia says the Say So program, which stands for Strong Able You Speaking Out. She says it helped saved her life after she was put into foster care at the age of 15. Like most teens in the foster care system, the memory of when everything changed is a vivid picture.
“And so she has a mental illness, and she wasn’t taking her medicine. And so it was just not healthy and not stable for us, “ says Milizhia.
Milizhia was placed in a group home and separated from her siblings.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get punished for doing something. So it’s like, all these mixed emotions, however, there’s some kids and young teens that are like excited about getting back home. Like, I have been in this unfamiliar place and I want to get back home to like where I know. However, there’s a lot that, when they come in to care, this is their first time sleeping in the bed, this is the first time getting their full meal, so they’re like I don’t want to leave this and go back to that. So it’s just a, literally whirlwind of emotion,“ explains Milizhia.
Milizhia didn’t age out of the system, she was able to go home a month before her 18th birthday.
“Things still weren’t good, and once I turned 18 I got kicked out because she said that it was my fault that we went to foster care,“ says Milizhia.
Milizhia hasn’t seen her biological mother since. She was introduced to the Say So program and attended an event that changed her life.
” I don’t think I would have accomplished as much as I have now if I didn’t have to Say So. Say So has helped me to build my own self-esteem, and being able to love the person that I am. And like realize that my story wasn’t my permanent spot but I can keep going within my story,“ explains Milizhia.
Say So helps young kids in foster care through yearly conferences and events to help with their lives within the system of a car, as well as transitioning out of foster care, by informing them of services and resources available to them and teaching them essential life skills.
“I think Say So brings connections, as well as Say So brings support,“ says Milizhia.
At 21, Milizhia is now a Say So Regional Assistant and pursuing her degree in Pre Law.
“I want to be able to do that for them and let them know that their voice is great and they can use their voice and that they have people that are fighting for them and that want to see a change with them and that they’re now alone, because I think that was the most thing that I like learned during Say So,“ says Milizhia.
Say So also advocates for foster care at a local and state government levels, informing legislators of the challenges and opportunities facing youth in foster care.
For more information about SaySo and “SaySo Saturday,” please contact Carmelita Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.