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Even in the darkness...there is still hope.

Conversations around aging out of foster care often have the feel of an anonymous tragedy. Statistics are quoted, everyone agrees that it's so sad, but the faces and stories are rarely brought to light.

I first met Allie (*nickname used to protect her anonymity and her story*) right before the Christmas holidays, in a parking lot, to hand over some emergency supplies. I was gearing up to travel to see my family for Christmas; she was bracing herself for a holiday spent homeless, living out of her car.

Systems and programs try their best to fill in these gaps, but there's no substitute for the support of a family. Below is Allie's story, unedited, in her own raw words as she relayed it to me. I hope you will consider being part of her rising up chapter by contributing or re-sharing, but mostly I hope you will take in her words and realize that the foster care crisis is not anonymous, not at all.

To describe going into foster care...I'll use the word dark because I went into foster care right after leaving the hospital. I was seven years old and had just tried to commit suicide for the first time.

My stepdad was the one who introduced my mom to drugs. He got unhooked but my mom just could never. She tries to get herself together but the only way she could get clean was when she was in jail.

The second time, I was in 5th grade. Things were getting bad. At home I never ate, I always gave my food to my siblings because they were hungry. My stepdad, when he was beating me and my sister, he wasn't trying to hide it. I came to school with whips on my face and I couldn't sit down because my bottom was so sore. The nurse pulled me into the office and asked me to take off my clothes....she saw the whip marks all over us and after that day we didn't go home.

Every week we would go to visitation and I would get my hopes up but she would never come. My siblings and I were in and out of foster care for my entire childhood. When I did live with my mom and dad I was hardly ever in school. My sister was a toddler, my brother was a baby, and some days when I'd get ready for school they wouldn't be home and I couldn't leave the babies alone.

When I went back into foster care at 15 I was really stressed because I was the only one caring for my siblings. My first foster mom, in front of my caseworker she was an angel but otherwise it was a different story. I was always fighting in the house with the foster mom and the other foster kids because I didn't want anyone to pick on the one sister who was with me.

Being in foster care as a teen was depressing, I don't know how else to describe it. I would do choir or cheer and people would always come to support my friends but I had nobody. My foster mom would get herself takeout but not us; she was really mean. She wouldn't give me my medicine and I every day I thought about calling my caseworker to say 'I'm ready to go, I can't go back."

On the day before my 18th birthday, she picked me up from the bus stop and told me "It's time to fly." I didn't know what she meant. She already had a bunch of my things in the car and drove me to the agency. I sat in this small room until like 3 in the morning, turning 18 at the foster agency. The only placement they had was at a group home and I had to be 18 to qualify so I sat in that room, waiting to be old enough for a bed. The other girls at the group home told me "You don't belong here, you look too sweet." The group home looked like the pictures of concentration camps from school. Everything gated, like a prison. The only bright spot was that the next morning I woke up to all these cupcakes; the other girls had gone to the 24 hour grocery store to get them for me as a belated birthday gift.

High school graduation was the greatest day of my life, I felt so proud of myself. I was able to encourage my roommates from the group home to keep trying and was able to attend their graduations as well, but it broke my heart because I was the only one there for them; no one from their families came. No one. And even though I made it t graduation, life after high school was still hard. In college, I had nowhere to go home to on holidays so I stayed at my dorm. After college I got my first apartment and tried my best to make things work with no support. I got evicted in September, have been living out of my car ever since. Been working as hard as I can to get ahead but being an adult after aging out of foster care, without healthy biological family or an adoptive family to lean on feels...lonely? Depressing? I keep using the word dark and that's how I feel, just darkness. You don't have anybody but yourself. No support system.

There's no great way to wrap up this story, no uplifting ending, not yet. But it's still unfolding, and even though Allie is struggling, she does NOT have to struggle alone. We can't do everything but we can all do something. If you want to help be a small part of the solution, go here to find out how.

Image description: Allie holds a candle, looking down into the flame.

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