I was a foster child since age 15, and something amazing has happened to me now at age 23. Since aging out in 2009, I have always lived in furnished apartments. But recently I had to move because my hours at work were cut, and I could not afford to live there any longer. This was scary because I knew I would not be able to afford a furnished apartment, and I could not afford to buy furniture, either. I would also need to find a roommate to help with expenses.
I told myself that maybe once a month I would buy something if my budget allowed, but it was devastating to think about not having a bed or a place to sit. It felt good to know I worked hard and saved for this moment, but I was scared, too. I had no money for extras like furniture, but I could pay my bills and rent.
I have a mentor I met at the age of 16 while I was in foster care. She had my group home over for a Christmas party at her nice house, and we had a gift exchange. That day I started to learn some things that I didn’t realize then, but part of it was trust. Luckily, we have stayed in touch all these years. I was telling her about my move and how the places I could afford were so run down and that I was being declined everywhere. Still, I told myself to keep going, and finally I found a place that seemed too good to happen, but I got in! The neighborhood is in a high-crime area, but the apartment is on the second floor and with a roommate, I could afford it.
I told my mentor I was looking for a used bed, and she told me she would look around. It lifted my spirits because I did not feel so alone with everything going on, and she actually cared like a parent would. A few minutes later, I saw a Facebook post where she was asking for assistance for one of her foster daughters. After 10 minutes there were already 15 comments, and when I woke up the next morning there were 53 posts from total strangers! They didn’t know it, but they were reaching out to help me. I wondered how people could care so much about a person they did not know. It was shocking that so many people wanted to help.
My father passed away, which is why I ended up in foster care. Both my parents were adopted, but I always just had my dad and brother as family. The thought of complete strangers trying to help was so overwhelming I was not sure how to handle it. I kept saying thank you, but it seemed impossible that within 48 hours I had a queen-size bed with soft, clean sheets and new pillows. Plus, I had a brand new, clean comforter!
Then came everything for a kitchen — pots and pans, silverware, dishes and glasses, and a nice rug. Soon there was a pretty bathroom shower curtain, with matching rug and towels. I got a sofa and chair and an entertainment set with cubbyholes for pictures! I met people who were so nice and talked to me about school, moving in and work. But that is not all: I also had my first Christmas tree, and it had decorations for me to put on the tree, too!
Every night I try to express to my mentor how I can’t believe that complete strangers rearranged their schedules to deliver the nicest things for me. These people have nothing to gain from this. I have met some who delivered things with my mentor, but I will not get the chance to meet everyone who helped. I am so grateful, and wish I could thank these people individually so I hope they will read this and know I am talking about them. I promise to take care of everything and treat it with respect to repay this kindness, which still doesn’t seem real. It has been a shock, but I also appreciate every single thing I have been given.
I am 23 and close to finishing college. I work at least 25 or 30 hours a week (sometimes more if I can get overtime.) This will be my best Christmas ever, even though I will probably work on Christmas Day. But then I will come home to a beautiful apartment that has been made into a home. The furniture and everything else is so nice, but the greatest thing to me is that people who don’t even know me care this much.
Thank you to my mentor, her caring friends and the other people of Tampa who offered help, but we already had everything I need. I will have a very merry Christmas, and I hope my whole city will, too.
Crystal Vallery lives in Tampa.