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Keim’s Story

Keim and his dance team at basie beacon m.s. 72

Keim and his fellow B2 Dancerettes performed in the M.S. 72 Basie Beacon program’s Black History Showcase. Back row from left to right: Crystal, Jaylah, Jalayah, Brianna, Leah, and Savannah. Front row: Keim and Nevaeh

My name is Keim, and I’m 14 years old. I started M.S. 72 in September 2019 when I was in sixth grade. I joined The Child Center of NY Beacon afterschool program as well.

I can admit that I was not the best student in school or afterschool, and I can admit that I made a lot of bad decisions. I used to feel that fighting people was cool because it made me fit in, and people accepted me. I would bully people, instigate, and provoke others. I maintained failing grades, but I didn’t care.

Then in 2021, I developed a love for dance with The Child Center of NY afterschool dance program. All the things I didn’t care about suddenly meant the world to me. It was during this time that I realized that I was now in the eighth grade and I needed to care more about myself and my future. Several people helped me reach this decision. All of a sudden, I realized how so many people in my life who were giving me guidance were so right about everything. My sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Cannon, would always tell me how I was worth more than fighting someone every day. My dance instructor in afterschool, Daquan Harris, really opened my eyes more than anyone.

I still struggle with my school work and attendance; my grades were still failing from the beginning of this school year. My dance instructor learned about this problem and worked with me to resolve the issues. For the first time in the history of my middle school experience, I passed all of my classes on my last report card. Funny but true, if I didn’t pass, my dance instructor told me that I would not be able to be on the dance team. Not being on the team was not an option because I love to dance. It’s the only way I feel that I can express myself.

Nyomi’s Story

Nyomi was a resident of The Child Center Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) from July 2020-June 2021. Severe aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, and poor social skills had led to dangerous situations, and Nyomi found herself involved in the juvenile justice system at 15 years old. The Office for Children and Family Services (OCFS) referred Nyomi to The Child Center RTF. Below is her story, in her own words.

Nyomi, a client of the child center residential treatment facility (RTF) in Brooklyn I live in Poughkeepsie, New York, with my mom and five siblings. I am the oldest.

I live there now, and I lived there before, but for a year I lived at The Child Center of NY RTF.

I was sent there because I was running away and got locked up. I don’t want to talk about why I was running away. I would get mad and just leave. The last time, they gave me two choices: go to a secure facility or go to the RTF, where I could do home visits. I requested the RTF.

At first, I was really nervous, but then I realized it wasn’t that bad. My first day there, I met Youth Advocates Taheem Powell, Geraldine Lelanne, Jennifer Perez, and Brian Louis. They showed me they actually cared. If I was going through stuff, I could talk to any of them. They were always there for me. I could tell them my secrets, about how I was feeling, and they wouldn’t tell anybody, they would just help me. I could say, “Can I talk to you?” to any of them — Jennifer and Brian, and also Dolores Davis and Unit Leaders Jackie German and Rasheim Smith… all my favorite staff — and they would say yes.

 I had individual therapy and family therapy at the RTF. I learned to manage my thoughts by using coping skills and expressing my feelings instead of running away or hurting anybody.

 Things with my mom are much better. She says I improved a whole lot — a complete 180! At family therapy sessions, we talked about what caused me to end up in placement, and what I needed to do to return home and remain home. And now I’m home! I’ve been free from self-harm for not only the three months pre-discharge, but also following discharge. I worked at a local farm over the summer. Now I’m a senior in my old high school, after going to school at the RTF,* where I did really well. I took geometry, algebra, and other classes. I was promoted to 12th grade, and I am going to graduate early! I’m glad I’m going to get to graduate from my old school.

I’ve been at home for five months now. I stay connected to my Credible Messenger and am continuing therapy and working toward my life’s goals. I want to become a veterinarian because I love animals.

 Back then — before I went to the RTF — to now, I’ve really improved. Before, when I got mad, I just left and didn’t come back. Now, I ask my mom, “Can I go somewhere?” and she says yes or no. If she says no and I get mad, I can go to my room and look at my phone or call one of my friends. I’m more responsible, and we get along more. My mom, she’ll talk to me about things. She says she knows what to do if I give her a problem — but it’s rare now.

 

*During Nyomi’s time at the RTF, she attended school on site through the NYC Department of Education. The RTF is unique in this way, as Nyomi was able to receive special education services through the DOE while receiving support from milieu staff.

Jiaxin’s Story

I came to The Child Center of NY when I was 14. Five years later, I’ve come a long way to be where I am now, talking about my journey and my healing through therapy. Some of it is hard to talk about, and some of it I have a hard time remembering, as a symptom of my post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s difficult to look back to the memories I do have, because I’ve matured a lot and have become a very different person. I can hardly imagine being the girl I was back then.

I started therapy at The Child Center’s Flushing Clinic as a result of a referral from my school. I felt lonely and empty. Everybody I knew called me weird, and I had no friends. To some, I may have just seemed edgy, but I had been suicidal and imagined different ways to kill myself. Now those feelings seem impossible. The helplessness I felt at the time seems so far away when I look back, as if I had dreamed it up.

My mother is a Chinese immigrant, and my father is a Hispanic American. When I was six, my mother left him due to the physical and emotional abuse she, my brother, and I had been subject to. We moved from shelter to shelter, and I transferred from school to school, where I was ridiculed and bullied by my classmates. At home, I resented my mother for her favoritism of my older brother. In Chinese families, the first-born son is always the favorite, and the women always come second. It was hard to connect to my mother anyway; we had different ideals. I was a self-described “daddy’s girl” at the time, and I idolized my father and thought that he was the only one who really understood me. But he had never been financially responsible or emotionally available for my needs. I was enmeshed in multilayered ethnic and cultural conflicts, value systems, and moral confusion. I trusted no one and did not identify with my peers. I didn’t even relate to my family.

Then I met my therapist who, through talking and sharing my thoughts, I created a bond of trust with. She was also a bridge that connected my mother and me, as she was Chinese and could understand the more traditional values of being Chinese. She helped me reconcile some aspects of being a Chinese American. Suddenly I didn’t feel so left out, especially as someone who wasn’t fully Chinese. I developed a sense of hope through her acceptance of who I was and was getting better.

However, the road to becoming stronger than my depression or anxiety was far from over. My paternal aunts denied my mental illness and tried to violently exorcise me. It is one of the darkest moments in my life, and to this day it still affects me. I had my physical and emotional control ripped from my hands, and my support cut off completely. I attempted suicide twice. I worked through the challenges I faced in the aftermath with my therapist — the nightmares and all, and through that I became stronger than what I felt. I cut contact completely with my paternal family, and I started to heal. Wounds became scabs, became scars.

But my story doesn’t end there. Even though I was improving every step of the way — my grades were up, I was volunteering and working in summer, and I was even applying to college — I had also been slowly piecing together, through journaling and voice recording, some scattered traumatic memories. And even though I still doubt it sometimes, there is undeniable evidence that my father sexually molested and abused me in some way when I was a child. I will probably never know what happened in detail, nor do I ever want to. But it was truly a milestone revelation. I experienced a therapeutic catharsis through finding and talking about it, but I would have never gotten this far without the trust I had in my therapist. I would have never verbalized the doubts and fears I had otherwise. And without her support through the aftermath, knowing that she would be there if I felt depressed, I don’t know how I would have coped.

As I worked through my feelings and emotions, I began to change my outfit and diet, and soon I began looking like your average teenager. I started to focus on better things in life, things that I had always loved, like animals. I started meeting new friends, I came closer to terms with the multicultural conflict in my life, and I even grew out of my brother’s shadow. Soon I graduated high school and started my first year at Hunter College. Currently I am in my second year of college, majoring in psychology with a concentration in animal behavior. I’ve made so many new friends, and I’m excited to see what life has in store for me.

Veronica’s Story

Growing up, things were tough. My parents are immigrants from Ecuador and worked where and when they could. For a lot of my childhood, my mom worked in a factory and my dad did construction. They’d come home at 7 or 8 o’clock, leaving my older sister and me alone. Sometimes I spent days in the library.

My older brother had stayed behind in Ecuador, and it was so tough on them to be apart from him like that, but then the unthinkable happened — he died. The family members in Ecuador who were taking care of him were very closed-mouthed about it, but they said he drowned. My parents never got over it, and it was the main event that impacted their whole lives. My dad had always been a drinker, but after my brother’s death, he became an alcoholic.

With my parents heartbroken and hardly around, my sister and I basically had to raise ourselves. No one was there to help me with my homework, or make sure I did it. They never attended my school plays or parent-teacher conferences. They did attend one conference, but because they don’t understand English well, I had to translate, and it just seemed like a waste of time.

Time was a weird factor in my childhood, with my parents having not enough of it and my sister and me spending too much of it alone. We became rebels. We started hanging out with what people call gang members, going out dancing with much older guys. I was 12.

My sister ended up pregnant at 13, and I wasn’t far behind.

While we were out dancing, I met my boyfriend, who was about 5 years older. We did everything together. After my sister had my niece, my mother stayed home to help take care of the baby, and she suddenly started taking notice of what I was doing. But it was too late. She set a curfew, which I ignored. She’d say, “Don’t you be like your sister,” and it annoyed me so much. I’d be like, “I’m not like her,” and just slam the door. I was working as a tutor, earning 50 dollars a week, which gave me a lot of freedom. I had a phone that I paid for myself and felt like I didn’t need anyone—anyone except my boyfriend, that is.

We broke up about a month after we started dating, and I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine life without him anymore. Being a girl who doesn’t have her mother’s or father’s care, I was trying to find love elsewhere. We got back together, and two months later, I was the one who was pregnant.

I cried day and night. I didn’t tell my parents until I was in my fifth or sixth month. When I finally told them, it was a whole big issue. The hospital called the Administration for Children’s Services and got an order of protection against my boyfriend. I was so used to seeing him every day, and now I couldn’t see him at all. I felt like I didn’t want my baby, because he was the one who’d taken my boyfriend away — if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I’d still be able to see my boyfriend. That’s what I was thinking.

I was so depressed and wasn’t doing well, relationship-wise, with others. It was a dark time, but thankfully, I had The Child Center of NY to help me through it. My sister had been referred to the home visiting program when she started abusing alcohol after the birth of my niece. Her home visitor saw what was going on with me and thought I could benefit from the program, too. She was right.

My caseworker referred me to therapy with a Child Center therapist, Gisela, which helped a lot. I could finally communicate with someone who would hear me out without judging me. Being pregnant, and then a mom, so young, people look at you with this face, like, “Oh my God, she had a baby.” You feel so judged all the time. But therapy was a place where that wasn’t true. Therapy also helped me in every single relationship, because Gisela helped me learn how to talk things out and express myself.

The home visiting program also showed me that there was a whole world out there. My first home visitor, Ms. Cindy, took me and other kids in the program on trips. We really enjoyed ourselves. I’d never been to a theater or a multiplex, and when she took us, I was like, Wow. She took us to the boardwalk, to see the Manhattan skyline, Governor’s Island…. It was amazing.

Teen Time was another way I got to meet people the same age, interact with them, and have fun without being judged.

But one of the most important things The Child Center helped me learn was how to be a good mom to my son. I had my baby boy five days before my 15th birthday. He was born at 34 weeks and had a lot of medical issues. Eventually, it turned out he was having developmental delays, and in 2014, he was diagnosed with autism. I was heartbroken. I thought it was my fault and wanted to give up; I felt like I’d already failed as a parent. But my mental health worker, Ms. Brenda, explained that sometimes these things happen, and I was going to have to be mature enough and strong enough to deal with it for my son’s sake. She showed me how to research, fill out paperwork, and ask questions. I wasn’t the type of person to ask questions; I was the kind of person who wanted to pretend nothing was wrong. But Ms. Brenda helped me deal with my son’s diagnosis, and now I know how to advocate for him.

Even with all this going on, it was still important to me that I finish high school, and Ms. Brenda helped me transfer to a high school that had child care. It wasn’t easy being a mom, working, and going to high school, especially with all my son’s doctor appointments and his being sick a lot. But I did it: I graduated high school, and today I’m a student at Queensborough Community College.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like it’s going to be big. I want to become an ultrasound technician, and I’m working toward my associate’s degree and training. I’m on track to graduate next year.

There were times I was going to give up on college, but Ms. Brenda pointed out to me, “Look how strong you are. Look what you’ve been through already — you were tough enough to get through that.” That’s stayed with me. I know I am that strong.

I like that I’m a good role model for my niece and nephews and my little brother. I can set an example for them and tell them to stand up for themselves. With my brother, I’m able to help him communicate with my parents, the way I learned how through the home visiting program. I had so much anger toward my parents; Ms. Brenda helped me see that I couldn’t change them, but I could learn to communicate with them, and ignore certain things when I needed to.

My son is five now. It’s tough to arrange everything, but I try to be consistent, stay involved in his therapy and education and go to all the parent-teacher conferences. I’m not afraid to ask questions.

Sometimes I get sad and wonder, “Why is my son like this?” This isn’t the way I wanted him to be. But then I remember to go forward. It may not be the way I wanted it to be, but I have so many more years to love my son. There were times I wanted to give up, but I’d think of my son, and I persevered for him. Someday I want to tell him that I achieved everything for him, and I want to give him a diploma one day. I see big things for him, too.


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