Monday, February 22, 2010

From Foster Care to Filmmaker: An Incredible Story

Family dinner rules the Schlaack house every night. Ed and I make dinner with the kids a priority and although we aren’t always successful, we get it right most evenings. Recently one night at the dinner table I told the kids I had made a new friend that day. One of the greatest benefits of writing Invisible Kids is that it has brought wonderful people into my life that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I met Crisinda when Crossroads Church ordered my book in bulk. Crossroads is looking to form a community group around issues relating to foster children, and my book gave them good insight into the system and the needs of foster children. Crisinda then introduced me to Selena, a former foster child turned filmmaker who produced a documentary about her mother’s addiction to crack cocaine and her journey from foster care to college and beyond. Keep in mind that less than 1% of foster children graduate from college.

Selena and I met for coffee recently after trading several emails. I set aside two hours for our time together and it wasn’t enough. I wanted to know everything about her and how she managed to transcend her early life experience to become such a success. Her successes are many: among them her kindness and her desire to use her life experience to help others. She has every reason to use her childhood of abuse and neglect as a reason to be bitter and angry. She has every reason to close the door on those painful chapters of her life and not look back.

If you are lucky enough to meet her, she might tell you about her very early memories of her parents before drugs took hold of them. She might reminisce about the happy times she had as a little girl with a younger sister and a mother who sang a song about FAMILY (Father And Mother and I Love You).

She might let you know what it is like to live without food, electricity, or running water because your parents have taken every last cent to feed their cocaine addictions. Maybe she’ll talk about how she became the primary caregiver of her six-year-old sister at age 10 because her own mother was strung out on crack. She entered foster care at age 14 after attending 12 different schools. Maybe she will explain how hard it was to adjust to anything while experiencing such chaos.

Selena will likely mention the foster mother who loved her or the caseworker who took her to freshman orientation at Wright State University. She will be the first to say that these important relationships sustained her and allowed her to grow.

Since she tells her story so beautifully in her film, I won’t tell it here. I couldn’t begin to do it justice. Instead, I encourage you to view it. It is powerful and hopeful.

I wonder if Selena’s success had something to do with the fact that her parents were able to provide for her and her sister when they were very young, before cocaine destroyed their family. I wonder if a solid foundation of love and nurturing were built in the early years and if they were able to sustain her when life started falling apart.

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that our relationships with other people profoundly shape us. They are the cornerstones of our lives. Relationships are key to our growth and development not just in our early years, but also throughout all our years.

When I told my kids I made a new friend, they asked when they were going to get to meet the famous filmmaker. I smiled and told them the fact that Selena made a film wasn’t even the coolest part about her. One look into her kind eyes and a sense of her quiet strength tells her whole story. This is the kind of woman who uses her life to make the world a better place. Who could ask for a better friend?

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