The Path I’ve Walked

By Elena Taylor

Elena Taylor large facebookEveryone faces challenges in their life. Some more than others, but everyone faces challenges. Somewhere along the line it was decided that I would be the guinea pig for just how many challenges one person can handle.

When I was 4 years old, I was adopted from Romania and came to the U.S. I lived in Florida for nine years with my new family. Since my adoptive parents were from Germany, we’d take trips there every year. Those were some of the good memories.
I was 13 years old when the abuse began. My adoptive dad molested me. It happened often, and depended on if he was drinking or smoking. It got to the point where I couldn’t handle it any longer without telling someone. So I told a friend from school and she reported my situation to a teacher. It was really close to Easter time. I was in class one day and I was called to come to the office at school. “Oh Lord, I’ve done it”, I thought to myself. Maybe it will all be over.

All of the sudden I found out I wouldn’t be going back home, and that I would have to go live with some strange people I didn’t know. I was 15 years old and in the 9th grade. I had to go through a forensic interview process because of the abuse. It was very scary. Someone from DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) drove me to this unusual place. When I arrived, it was a building of blank walls and teddy bears. They put me in a room with a double sided mirror and a tape recorder. I felt intimidated and embarrassed. Naturally, I didn’t want to talk or give enough details, so at this point the case was dismissed.

I was shuffled through seven foster homes and three group homes, one of which was in Valdosta, Georgia, where I stayed for two years. It was a very hard two years for me in the Valdosta group home – mentally, physically and emotionally. I had to work with my social worker to reopen my case concerning the abuse, writing everything down in therapy sessions. Eventually my adoptive father got what he deserved – 30 years in prison without parole. I was dealing with a lot of emotions and felt like I was being overmedicated. At one point I was given too much Zoloft, and was sent to an inpatient and outpatient treatment program while I waited to have my prescription changed. I missed five days of school because of this and had to fight hard to keep excelling in school. There were times where I didn’t have any friends. I spent a lot of time alone. I was forced to teach myself how to make day-to-day tough decisions and right choices. All I wanted to do was finish high school. I worked hard, and eventually I got my well-deserved high school diploma.

Despite this being a hard time for me, there were aspects of the Valdosta group home that I did like. People from the surrounding community would come each weekend to host activities, and I met several mentors who made a real impact on me. When I wanted to give up, they encouraged me. They were always just a text or phone call away when I needed them. One was an older woman, German born, who invited me to her house to spend time. She once gave me a bouquet of pretty flowers, and I took pictures of them. I still have them to this day. Sadly, she passed away in 2013. I still keep in touch with two mentors.
I’ve been through good and bad times – but I believe it has all made me who I am today. At 21, I aged out of foster care and had nowhere to go. My adoptive mom didn’t want me back, so I had to go to an assisted living home. Then, in March 2014, she passed away from a fatal brain disorder.

In spite of everything I am still standing today. I turned to Job Corps and took the Health Occupations trade. Eventually, I earned enough money to rent my own apartment, and step by step I’ve worked my way to Albany Technical College, where I’m now studying Hospitality Management. I’m a supporter of Dougherty CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and GA EmpowerMEnt (an initiative founded by former and current foster youth), a Foster Care Alumni of America member, and an alumni of Team in Training: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In 2013, I was named an Honorary CASA Advocate. Running has also become a big passion of mine, and I’ve accomplished seven half marathons. I think my life has been for the best because I am able to tell people about my struggle and offer advice to those who need encouragement. If I could say anything to other youth in foster care, I’d tell them you can make it too.

Published on May 4, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.