Story and photos by Chelsea Quackenbush
Alisha Maglio has a lot of reasons to be hopeless. When she was young, she was abused severely and was left with a broken pelvis and a right eye that has needed reconstructive surgery – twice.
She was soon put in foster care and bounced between foster group homes in South Texas. She was angry and violent. She said she was screaming on the inside and no one could hear her.
But when she moved to the Buckner Children’s Village in Beaumont, Texas, at age 13, someone finally heard her screaming. In fact, a lot of people heard her screaming. Despite all the healing ahead of her, they opened up their arms and she found family.
Alisha developed relationships with people she didn’t expect. Her houseparents and Buckner staff worked with her to sort through the pain of her past. Now, at 29, she and her son, 11-year-old Brock, still call Buckner their family.
Rhonda Robicheau, a Buckner gift officer in Southeast Texas, took Alisha under her wing during her teen years. She took her shopping and made her feel important, Alisha says. The best part was that she felt like she had a mom, even if for only a few minutes at a time. They’re still close and Rhonda is Brock’s grandmother.
Alisha says Rhonda taught her how to be a lady – how to dress, how to talk, how to do her hair. She’s not sure where she would’ve ended up without Rhonda’s support.
The long road ahead
On top of fighting her own demons, Alisha was bullied at school because she didn’t come from a “normal” home environment. She never fit in. She suffered, feeling less than everyone else. One of the biggest lessons she learned while at Buckner came from a day on a ropes course. She was in shock how much she learned from something as simple as a ropes course but after dropping from a high rope in a harness with someone holding at the bottom, she learned how to trust. She had no idea how hard it was for her.
At 17, Alisha became pregnant and had to leave foster care due to state mandates*. She was a child one day and a parent the next. Lost in a cycle of victimhood and hopelessness, she started using drugs. She soon became addicted and almost lost her son to Child Protective Services.
The day CPS came to take Brock, she knew she had to get her act together. She could not – and would not – allow the family pattern to repeat itself. She fought hard and won Brock back. She couldn’t bear the thought of someone else raising her child.
Buckner staff encouraged her to take advantage of services offered at the Buckner aftercare program, Fostering Youth Independence (FYI). The program provides support for youth who “age out” of foster care through programs to help them transition to adulthood.
When teens leave foster care, they’re often left with little to no support from biological family members. The odds are not in their favor. Many teens end up homeless, addicted to drugs, unemployed, undereducated, pregnant or repeating the situations that led them to foster care. FYI helped Alisha and Brock find a place to live, food to eat and a job. More than that, they taught her how to be a mom.
From victim to ‘survivor’
Alisha now is a parent advocate for CPS. She works with parents and recovering drug addicts to help them get their children back. CPS asked her to join their team after they saw how hard she worked for Brock. They knew she was a good parent; she just had some issues she needed to work on, she says.
She can empathize with children and with parents – she tells them her story and that they don’t have to live like victims and they can live like a survivor – and she is their example. She often sees a little light bulb go off when she tells her story. She sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes.
Alisha has also helped with policy changes in her region; she’s worked with various senators and wrote bills. She’s excited to help change things in the CPS system. She currently works for free but is hoping the grant will be funded in 2014 but she doesn’t care – she is fulfilled. She says she’s never been more fulfilled in her life.
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