Foster Youth Overcomes Obstacles to Become College Bound
Nineteen year old Jodi Young of Ottawa is a wonderful, outgoing, and truly inspiring young lady who enjoys all the same things as most girls her age. However, Jodi is far not your typical teenager.
At the age of six, Jodi was left a quadriplegic following a car accident. Since then, even the simplest of tasks have become a challenge and pursuing a college degree will be no different.
"She may have physical disabilities, but her mind is sharp," says Jodi's foster parent, Diane Rieman. Jodi does not consider herself handicapped; it is just a label. "There's not an obstacle she can't overcome," says Diane.
Following her debilitating car accident, her biological family was unable to meet her needs. It was then Jodi became a ward of the state. By the age of ten, Jodi made the bold decision to leave the Toledo area and become part of the Rieman home.
"Jodi is our daughter in every sense of the word," says Diane.
"They never treated me differently than their own children," explains Jodi. "It feels great to be treated just like everyone else!" The Rieman's always challenged her to do her best. "I wouldn't be going to college if they hadn't encouraged me. They have instilled in me my moral standards and work ethic. Thanks to them, I now know how parents are supposed to be."
The Rieman's must be doing something right. Diane and her husband Bill have been foster parents for 27 years; the majority with SAFY. Seventy-three foster children have come through the doors of their country Ottawa home, three of which they've adopted. Each child has left their mark, perhaps none more than Jodi. "She's a gem," says Diane.
"There's no manual or protocol for raising a child with multiple physical disabilities," Diane explains. She has spent much of her time appealing to county and state agencies to implement guidelines for other foster parents faced with raising children with needs outside the norm. Perhaps that's why Jodi wants to pursue her doctorate in psychology.
"I view myself as no different than anybody else. I just need to figure out different ways of doing things," explains Jodi. "I actually view the accident as a blessing. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had all the opportunities that I have now."
Jodi uses a wheelchair to get from place to place. She finds many facilities difficult to navigate for people with handicaps. That's why she wants to advocate for others in similar situations. "I am surprised at how many public places are inaccessible to persons needing to use a wheelchair. My family and I find this very frustrating," she says.
Jodi plans to specialize in child or rehabilitation psychology with aspirations of working in a rehabilitation center or hospital setting on a children's unit. "I know how hard it is for a child to deal with a major injury or illness."
When Jodi started in the public school system she was automatically placed in classes for those grappling with multiple handicaps (MH). "I was not challenged and I became disinterested in school," says Jodi. All that changed when she was placed in the Rieman's home. With a little bit of love and encouragement, Jodi tested out of MH classes and graduated from Ottawa-Glandorf High School at the top of her class.
Soon Jodi heads to the University of Findlay to pursue her goal of a college degree. But Jodi's dreams don't stop there. She wants to have a family of her own someday. That includes adopting children as well as having her own children.
Jodi and her foster family take things one day at a time. Having faced many challenges, they are currently struggling with a more practical concerns like transportation needs. The family's van used to transport Jodi is aging and not sufficient to be traveling to and from Findlay University each day. Consequently, the family is appealing to the kindness of others who may be able to provide a new or gently used van for Jodi to use.
If one can be obtained, state aid will help equip the van and make it handicap accessible. This is just another in a long list of hurdles the Rieman family must jump to help Jodi reach her full potential.
In the meantime, Jodi continues to live her life to the fullest. She has not allowed her disability to get her down even though it comes with a host of health-related complications. "I never wish things were different," says Jodi. "It's just a God-given quality."
Former SAFY Youth Sprints to Stardom
Derrick Williams is one of eight children in his family. At the young age of 24, he's experienced more adversity than most individuals encounter in a lifetime. Derrick was living in Cleveland, Ohio, with his brothers and sisters when they were taken from their mother who could no longer provide for them emotionally or physically. Like so many women, she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table for her family. So at the age of 12, Derrick, the oldest of four boys, began his journey through foster care. The boys were kept together. The girls were not, being separated and placed with relatives.
"I was so young when I was placed into foster care," explains Derrick. "I didn't understand what was happening. I spent years searching for answers when there were none. I became angry and frustrated and growing up was a very hard time for me," he says.
By the time he turned 16, Derrick and his brothers had lived in six foster homes. Memories of the despair could be heard in his voice. The boys had been beaten down. They endured repeated verbal and physical abuse. "I had to stay strong for my brothers," says Derrick. "I would wait until everyone went to sleep before I buried my head in my pillow and cried myself to sleep," he recalls.
One of the hardest things for Derrick to adjust to was the constant moving around. "I felt like I had no roots. I tried not to make close friends because as soon as I did, I would be uprooted again and moved to a new foster family."
It's not surprising that Derrick did poorly in school. He really didn't care about his grades. He said he was more concerned about his brothers and sisters.
Just when he thought things would never improve, they did. He and his brothers were placed in the care of SAFY foster parents Paul and Wilma Bennafield in Canton, Ohio. It was then Derrick's life would change. "The Bennafield's were different. They taught us about responsibility; about God and having faith. They shaped me into the person I am today," proclaimed Derrick.
Another person who had tremendous impact on the path Derrick's life would take was track coach Chad Palmer. He stopped Derrick one day at school and asked him to try out for the team. His decision to give it a shot changed his life. "When my feet hit the pavement I had never experienced such fun or excitement. I loved it! I decided to dedicate my life to running and running fast!"
And that he did. Derrick went on to break school, state and national records. He became a star. He became one of the most popular boys in school. "Suddenly I started to open up. My self-image improved. I actually formed friendships and interacted with others," he explained. "All I ever wanted was for someone to love me. And because of track, I began to feel the love and the adoration of others."
Just talking about how much his life has changed since joining the SAFY family, brought tears to his eyes. Derrick's grades began to improve. He started caring about school. His foster parents made sure he and his brothers attended school everyday, did their homework, tended to chores and went to church every Sunday.
Derrick began to realize the tragedy that he and his siblings had endured. He is saddened by how human beings hurt other human beings.
But Derrick made an important decision. He made the decision to live. To be a good person. "Had I not made that decision, my life could have ended up very differently. I'm happy now. I have a good life," he said.
Derrick graduated from high school. He attended a community college in Kansas, majoring in forensic science. And he's a professional athlete. Last year, he signed a four year contract with Reebok. So, he gets paid to do what he loves – run.
What does the future hold for Derrick Williams? He'll compete later this year in the world track championships. Next year, he hopes to qualify for the United States Olympic track team. Both competitions will be held in Beijing, China. In the meantime, "I hope to inspire others. I want to give back. I want to tell my story. I want others to know they are not alone; to not give up. There are people who want to reach out and help and that will love them. I know firsthand because it happened to me," he says.
Derrick currently resides in Fayetteville, Arkansas. "I like it here. It's a nice community. I want to establish some roots. I want a family someday. I love kids. And I want to be in my children's lives everyday. There will always be obstacles. It will be hard. But my advice to others is to persevere. "
"God gives you choices. I made mine. I think I made a good one. No matter what the future holds, I will be humble. I will always remember where I came from and appreciate where I am now," says Derrick.