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Pain and poverty: Amarillo youth overcomes abuse and abandonment

Energetic, humorous and bright, Briana Gardner is a lively mother filled with courage and tenacity. But she remembers a time when her life was filled with uncertainty and hopelessness.

“If it wasn’t for Buckner, I would probably be stripping right now,” Briana said. “I couldn’t afford rent, I was in school, paying my car note and car insurance, all while paying $127 every week for my son’s day care.”

Before she was introduced to Buckner, Briana was in what felt like a never-ending cycle of poverty and solitude. This cycle started once Briana’s mother abandoned her.

“When I was 14, my mom dropped me off at my grandfather’s house and said she would be back in two weeks,” Briana said. “But she never came back for me.”

For the next four years, Briana lived in homeless shelters and was moved from one foster home to another. Along the way, she suffered abuse and neglect from men she thought cared about her.

Briana had a miscarriage shortly after she entered foster care. Other than her Child Protective Services case worker, Briana was alone. She needed help getting back on her feet, but had no family or friends to offer her support and comfort.

Briana became a part of Buckner’s Preparation for Adult Living program when she was 18. PAL provides six life skills classes, personal life decisions, social life decisions, job readiness, housing and transportation, financial management and health, to support and guide current and former youth in foster care transitioning to independent living. The program also provides financial support, housing and a center loaded with resources, including a computer lab, a washer and dryer, showers and clothing for youth ages 16-25.

When Briana turned 19, she wanted to fend for herself but realized she still needed help from Buckner.

“I hit rock bottom when I was out of foster care,” Briana said. “I was 19, homeless and living in my car. When Buckner found out I was homeless, they gave me a voucher to get an apartment for 18 months.”

Through PAL, Briana not only learned the life skills she needed to survive, but also how to be self-sustained and strive for the best in life.

“Briana has shown a great amount of independence and dedication during her time here,” said Caylin Tillery, FYi transition center coordinator. “She is not one to ask for help and wants to be successful in everything she does. I know she can and will do anything she sets her mind to.”

Now Briana aspires to be a positive light to children and young adults who are facing the same struggles she endured growing up. She works for Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle in the emergency youth shelter. She works with children who remind her of herself. 

“I was going to quit after three weeks because it was too hard being there and remembering that I had a miscarriage in this same building,” Briana said. “But I stayed because these kids need us to fight for them. They need someone to love them and give them what their parents couldn’t. I stayed because I would have wanted someone to stay for me.”

Briana enjoys counseling young girls struggling with the same issues she struggled with growing up, which is why she chose to study social work at Amarillo College.

She is thankful not only for the support she received from the PAL program but also for the PAL Training Facilitators who helped her with her 3-year-old son, Greyson.

“Growing up, I was always lonely because I moved around so much. I didn’t have any close ties or long-term friendships,” Briana said. “But coming to Buckner … I finally have ties. They even help with my son when I come in to use the computers … they all come together to watch him while I do my work. God was working through all of this, and the people here at Buckner are like my family.”

Written by Buckner Summer Intern Odufa Atsegbua.

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