by Foster Youth Museum director, Jamie Lee Evans
I have interesting dreams. Last night I dreamt there was a COVID-19 campaign for people to make friends instead of buying all the toilet paper they can find. Then I woke up wondering how homeless people are supposed to shelter-in-place when they have no shelter to begin with. Then of course, my mind went to my foster youth community. Fosters – my word for anyone who has a day or more of care experience – are great survivors. Still, making friends and feeling part of a community, much less a family, is something we can really struggle with. Even if we have a place to call home, is there anyone checking on us for weeks as we shelter-in-place?
Being chosen means a whole lot more when people are hoarding hand sanitizer, public events are cancelled, college campus housing is closing and we are told to stay inside and don’t go to work. What happens if we run out of money to buy food? Where do we go if our campus housing closes? Who is making sure we still make rent if closures put us out of work? Who will show up when we are overcome by emotions and fears and need a genuine hug to ride out the feelings? Who will bring us zinc lozenges and tissues? And was there ever anyone there to teach us to sneeze into our elbows? Commitment and forever relationships seem more important now than ever before.
Chosen: Foster Youth and Their Chosen Families still has an opening date of April 3, 2020 in Oakland. Of course, we will let you know if anything has to change about that. For now, here is Kevin’s chosen family story. It’s something to feel good about, although you might need to sacrifice a couple of squares of TP while reading.
Kevin appreciates the sense of belonging he has with his chosen family very much. When his little brothers get Valentine’s Day chocolates from his mom, he gets one too. For Kevin, being chosen might mean being extra loved, because his belonging in the family is a choice, not just because he was born into it.
Kevin met his chosen mother Samantha through a connection and their relationship just grew and grew.
A friend of Kevin’s sat on the Board of Directors of an agency run by Samantha. That agency worked with foster youth, and Kevin was invited to join the board. The roots of their chosen family relationship began to take hold when he started babysitting for Samantha and her husband Scott. Kevin so loved hanging out with them and their kids, Isaac and Evan, that he started calling the kids his little brothers, and Samantha started signing cards to Kevin with “Love, Mom.”
Nine years later Kevin explains what his chosen family means to him: “They are my family and it feels like I have always known them. I know I would be lost without them.” Kevin says, “I feel most connected at their big kitchen table. That is where we eat meals, play games, do homework. It feels good sitting at the table.” Kevin and his family get together about three times a week. They play Chess, Backgammon, and Monopoly and modern games like Dominion, and Caverna. They sometimes play heavy games that the adults can’t figure out.
Kevin’s chosen brother Isaac is 14 and Evan is 10. Kevin, 34, appreciates that their age difference allows him to help care for them. Many of Kevin’s close relationships are when people care for him, but with his chosen family he gets to nurture his little brothers, and to take some load off his chosen parents. Kevin enjoys helping with their homework, driving them around and running errands together. His favorite experience with Samantha, Scott, Isaac and Evan is simply “non-dysfunctional family stuff.”
Trauma from Kevin’s biological family experiences means that he still worries a little that he might lose his chosen family. “In the back of my mind I always have a little catastrophizing.” Kevin’s chosen family show their love in ongoing and real ways. His mom helped him get a job, that then led to other jobs, which led to more stable food and housing. A year ago Kevin became homeless for a few months but was able to stay with his family. He needed some significant car repair not long ago and they helped out. “I would not have had that [support] if we weren’t family.”
It’s an amazing thing, and very different from his upbringing, for Kevin to feel peaceful and safe with his family. Being chosen means that every interaction is an opportunity to show your commitment. At Kevin’s graduation, parents were asked to stand up during the ceremony, which Samantha did. Once when Isaac was 12, he knew to ask Kevin “are you okay?” Kevin was moved to have his little brother show this concern. After dinner and game nights, Scott always walks Kevin to his car, has a private check-in with him, and makes sure he is alright. He asks Kevin about things they can’t discuss in front of the younger brothers, and they just shoot the breeze. Scott sometimes checks under Kevin’s car hood to make sure everything is working. Being chosen means you look out for one another. Every interaction is an opportunity to show your commitment through loving acts.
Kevin and Isaac and Evan and Samantha and Scott will make a public proclamation of their foreverness to one another at Foster Youth Museum’s first Chosen Commitment Ceremony on April 9, 2020.
photo by Ray Bussolari