Agape encounters lots of children stuck in a cycle. Some of these children yearn to get out, but don’t even realize that’s a realistic option. It’s a lot like the recent message from our Connecting Hearts event: “There were the kids who wanted to become something, and there were the kids who were working to become something.”
Ramona was recently adopted by her loving foster parents, Jerry and Michelle Riggs in Cullman, at the age of 16. But being added to a family isn’t a legal process. It’s something achieved through love and acceptance. For Ramona, this was hard-earned.
She and her four siblings were placed with Jerry and Michelle in 2006 after a string of foster care placements. There were issues of neglect, substance abuse, and periodic incarceration with their birth family. Like many children with this history, her parents’ choices didn’t matter to Ramona. She was sad and angry to be in foster care, even after her adoption. Jerry and Michelle invested time with Ramona but she continued to pull away. Ramona describes being mad and acting out with no real understanding of why she did so.
Last year, Ramona’s behavior and anger escalated. She left her family home without permission and was picked up by police and later placed in the preventative program for troubled teens, Youth Advocate Program (YAP). She expected Jerry and Michelle to not only be disappointed but also done. She was surprised when they didn’t give up on her. They continued to pour love into her, though it was tough love at times. They spent time with Ramona and her probation worker. They changed churches to have a more supportive peer group, and they noticed changes almost overnight.
Ramona’s attitude improved; she and her older brother began leading a family Bible study, and she started investing time in her younger siblings, encouraging them to learn from her missteps.
Ramona’s story inspired her probation worker and she was invited to speak to a group of recovering adults, many who were parents struggling with substance abuse. She shared what it was like to be put second and third to drugs and alcohol.
Ramona has reframed her story – she’s no longer just an adopted child from the foster care system. She has new dreams and a busy schedule with her school’s track team and opportunities to speak out about foster care and the hurt that accompanies being the child of an addicted parent.
The pain of her past is still evident in her shaky voice, but she chooses to channel that pain into growth. Jerry and Michelle continue to serve as Agape foster parents and pour love into each child that comes through their doors, a total of 89 children in 18 years. Their tenacious spirit and unconditional love has changed the lives of many of those children over the years.
By Jenny Cummings, Project Manager for Out of Home Care