Background: The below photo is from when I was 16. An odd, dorky high school student. Metaphorically, the picture stands for perseverance, grit, and the willingness to defy the status quo. Why? What people saw was me performing in the below-freezing temperatures. What they did not see was that I was a sad, depressed teenager because of the ongoing emotional and physical abuse I was dealing with at home. Cops frequented my home and knew us as the problem household on the block. You can probably picture what that meant. Child Protective Services and Social Care Workers got involved regularly.
Consequently, music became my escape and outlet in high school and college. It was the one thing—besides my faith—that was consistently there for me. My social workers were underpaid and mostly overworked. A lot of them quit their jobs after a few months, followed by a steady stream of replacements. I learned to accept my circumstances at home because of this constant shuffling. I thought that maybe I do not belong to anyone or anywhere. Shortly after that, I completely hid my feelings from older adults. I did not know how to ask for help meeting my basic needs. Every relationship seemed transactional. Getting close to people and then seeing them ripped from my life in an instant hurts. So I intentionally numbed myself from feeling anything. I suppose I became suicidal in high school and a bit after because I did not know my purpose in life. It was hard to imagine that I had any potential future. A lot of what happened came out when I testified in court against those that hurt me mentally and/or physically. I was scared, but I knew that I did not want to end up homeless or as another welfare statistic. As a first-generation Asian female, I also had the responsibility to take care of my parents and grandma due to their language barrier. My grandma ended up in the hospital a few times throughout my life. I always there to support her. As a result, there was a lot of pressure to become an “adult” early-on. I was not afforded a normal, loving childhood.
Coming to Box and my2be
Having the opportunity to work at Box was a huge blessing. I had the opportunity to escape much of the emotional abuse at home by moving to Austin, Texas (also known as the City of Live Music). It was refreshing and, honestly, it was where I learned what loving adults do. I saw peers my age (in their early 20s and a bit older) receive phone calls from their moms and dads. It was the first time I felt that a piece of myself was really missing. Throughout my childhood—besides having a roof, food, and basic clothing—I would have to fend for myself at school, court, work, and home. There was no emotional love. I was scared to say anything at work because I knew that foster youth and people with backgrounds similar to mine typically ended up incarcerated, sexually trafficked, homeless, or with an unplanned pregnancy. I knew how fortunate I was to be working at Box. But I was also afraid that others would not understand. I was afraid of being homeless since that’s what losing my job would mean. I am early on in my professional career and do not have the luxury of a security blanket to fall back on, or parents who are willing and able to be there for me. Unfortunately, these are the harsh statistics for most of us. My social care workers discussed foster care as an option when I was in high school.
I subconsciously knew that I needed older adults in my life who could give me this kind of care, but I did not verbally acknowledge these emotions until COVID-19 hit. Essentially, that was when the “shit” hit the fan. I was discriminated against at my last apartment complex in Austin (probably for the reason I wrote about above), and ended up sleeping in my car here and there, dealing with a “Peeping Tom”, all while managing a new full-time work-from-home lifestyle.
Through my faith and prayer, I soon heard about the my2Be Mentorship Program at work. I was encouraged by my former manager to sign-up, so I did. I met my mentor—Ian—when I attended the program’s virtual office hours. I did not think anything of it at the time, but he messaged me through the program chat shortly after because he liked my enthusiasm. I also knew he was heavily involved with his church. That was a personal requirement since my faith has preserved my spirit. I needed to find an older mentor who was strong and could help provide fruitful guidance. Through a series of interactions, he introduced me to #PrayerBox, founded by Vivian Phung. That let me open up about my story to a small, supportive Christian group. I was an emotional mess and needed the one-to-one interactions outside of my everyday team. Slowly but surely I started to share and soon became good friends with a few members. I eventually felt confident enough to disclose my background with senior leaders at Box. That inspired them to become more closely involved in working with foster youth. I am also grateful to Stephanie, another manager at Box, who I met through my2be. She was such a great sounding board to open up to about topics that kids generally learn about from their parents early on. I was embarrassed at first because I felt awkward and that, by comparison, I was trailing behind everyone else around me. However, I knew I had to overcome those feelings to heal and become a better version of myself.
Recently, I left Box and have now transitioned to Zoom. Ironically, I am at the same company as Vivian (the founder of #PrayerBox). I know we were both placed here for a reason and I am currently exploring options to connect Zoom with Box to raise awareness regarding mentorship, foster youth, and adult-adoption. The adult-adoption idea came to me at Box and, fortunately enough, I was able to bounce the idea to Ian within a safe, non-judgmental environment. I am now fully aware that the way I had lived before was not sustainable. I just needed reassurance from an older, wiser adult.
Current Focus: I am really praying for an enthusiastic, warm, service-oriented, heart for God, music and art-loving, adventurous, National Park/outdoor-loving mom and dad who do not see me as a transaction and can walk by my side on my journey. I want to be wanted for the person I already am, and the person I can grow into in the future. It would mean the world to me if my future adoptive parents had a passion for this area and can empathize with my background. I still love my biological family, from afar, and do not wish them any ill will. I know their struggles. I know that they are not my true parents.
I want to emphasize the importance of programs like my2Be because it helps create a bridge for older adults to share skills that younger adults need. For those that can relate to my background, please remember to take care of yourself and heal first. It takes a lot of energy to push through trauma.
I also ask that anyone that has been fortunate enough to be raised with a lot of love to spread some of it around to foster care, orphanages, kids on welfare programs (discount lunches), and group homes. These young people have endured a lot of trauma. It typically takes a mentally and emotionally strong, loving professional to help them handle the stress and fill their “cups.” Social care workers are underpaid and assigned more work than they can handle. Aged-out foster youth need help. A simple Google search on this topic will pull up many ways you can get involved both physically and financially. If that is not feasible, consider sharing my story and my journey with adult-adoption. It is important to destigmatize this topic since more than 23,000 foster youth age out. Most of them end up on the streets, incarcerated, on drugs, and/or sexually trafficked. There should not be an absolute cut-off at 18 for adoption, so long as the younger and older adults share the same desire to be a family. There have been stories of foster youth being adopted by their foster parents after 18 because the legal process is easier then.
As for me, I knew that I could not leave my home and drop everything because I wanted to finish my education. And there were family members like my grandma who needed my help. Choosing to leave before I turned 18 was not a viable option. And it is not something anybody should have to choose between as a kid or as an adult. My focus now is to find parents with the qualities that I described before because I never really had a childhood. Essentially, I need to learn how to accept love and let myself be nurtured for once. I hope I have a forever home soon. I know it will happen but I have to be patient and wait for God’s timing.
If you find my story valuable, feel free to reach out over on my LinkedIn Page (Stephanie Kong) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.