Erica Bright’s childhood was filled with abuse and neglect. Living this lifestyle could have taught her to fear people and keep to herself. Instead, Erica embraces Romans 12:9: “Love from the center of who you are.” Nothing could push away her desire to love and help others.
A few years after the death of her mother, Erica first went into the foster care when she was 13 years old. One day, she was pulled out of school and only had two hours to pack her belongings and leave the home. She was removed from her foster care home without a chance to say goodbye to the other children.
From that point on, Erica did not feel valued or safe in foster care. She developed what she calls an “orphan mentality,” which limited her way of thinking and her hopes for the future.
“I call this an orphan mentality because the life of an orphan has no sense of safety or consistency,” Erica explained. “This means making choices that affect their day-to-day survival. This is when you’re so focused on surviving the day, you do not have the ability to think about tomorrow. All your thoughts are focused on your past and how you ended up here.”
Erica was put into a Buckner children’s home in Lubbock, Texas, when she was 14 years old. She slowly began to lose her orphan mentality and learned how to trust again.
“I remember being very confused at first because I didn't know who everyone was or where I would sleep that night,” Erica recalled. “But then I heard someone say the children's home was a long-term placement. After being abruptly removed from my last home, the idea of a long-term placement made me breathe a sigh of relief. I felt the safest since I went into foster care.”
Not only did Erica feel safe with Buckner, she felt valued because they understood how to connect with her. The home parents treated her with respect and helped change her perspective on foster care.
“Buckner was the first place that was honest and straightforward with me,” Erica said. “They had an adult conversation with me and told me I did not have to worry about being kicked out as long as I followed the rules.”
During Erica’s time with Buckner, she learned a lot about foster care culture and how most foster children believe being adopted is the answer to all their problems.
“Adoption doesn’t fix everything,” Erica said. “It isn’t the end all answer. Being adopted didn’t fix me or help me with my former family problems.”
Erica likes to tell people that being adopted is not what fixed her problems, but gaining a supportive community did. Through her adopted family she found a support system in her church.
Her parents were pastors, which helped her build long-term relationships with people in the church who she admired. Her church community changed her way of thinking and gave her a perspective on how different life could be.
“I met people in my church that grew up the same way I did, but were multimillionaires by the time they were 26,” Erica said. “This gave me a lot of hope.”
Now, Erica is 24 years old and married to Caleb Bright, whom she met in her church community. They have a six-month-old daughter, Clara Grace.
Erica graduated from Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in 2015 with a degree in Speech Language Pathology. Following her graduation, she has been active in the Lubbock community and Buckner ministries.
She is currently a member of Buckner’s Lubbock Ambassador Council. For Christmas last year, Erica made stockings full of gifts for 45 foster children and her church community wrote each of the youth members encouraging letters. Erica also spoke at the 2017 Lubbock Tea panel about Buckner’s transitional programs.
“Erica has a heart to serve youth aging out of foster care because she had similar experiences,” said Becky Robertson, ministry engagement coordinator for Buckner in Lubbock. “She has taken those experiences and the influence she has in her church community to help bring people to come alongside the foster youth in our programs. Together they help meet the needs of youth through resources, fellowship events and mentoring.”
Erica has also started her own nonprofit called Reclaimed 43, which is dedicated to helping youth transition from foster care to independent living, helping them make decisions to put them on a path to becoming thriving members of society.
“Erica’s smile is radiant of her compassion and desire to serve Christ and bring hope to the vulnerable,” Becky said. “She has a passion to make sure the youth aging out of foster care feel loved and are not alone in the journey into adulthood.”
Written by Buckner Summer Intern Odufa Atsegbua.