Helping Foster Children Believe In Themselves
Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
If you have heard me tell stories in the past, you have probably noticed that I always focus on a person’s life and the role the Y has played in it. It’s very personal for me because I have had the privilege to be a part of this Y for nearly 35 years. In that time, I have met so many great people and have witnessed, first hand, how the Y has made a difference in their lives. By sharing these stories, I am paying tribute to the many people who contributed to making the Y possible in our community. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to honor the many people who support this Y; you make these stories of impact possible.
I recently attended a luncheon to benefit Amara, a not-for-profit organization that serves children in foster care and the families who care for them. Some of their stories are heartbreaking, but thanks to organizations like Amara and people who care, these children can become part of a healthy and loving community. The Y has become a vital part of this lifeline, providing a free membership to every foster child in the state of Washington. In Pierce and Kitsap counties, over 1,400 foster children are members of the Y.
All of this got me thinking about several young people I have known over the years through the Y who were foster children.
I met Curt two days after we opened Tacoma Center in September 1983. He came into the branch accompanied by a friend. Curt seemed reluctant to be there; it was obvious he was uncomfortable receiving assistance from his friend. Curt was in a wheelchair.
His friend pulled me aside and told me Curt had been through a lot. A year before, he was in a horrible car accident – a drunk driver hit the car he was driving head on, and Curt was left paralyzed. Curt was a high-level athlete, training to qualify for the Olympics in the 1,000-meter one-man kayak race. After the accident, Curt went into a deep depression and had withdrawn from everyone in his life. His friend shared with me that Curt’s childhood was spent in foster homes until he had landed with him. It had been a long journey for Curt to trust anyone. While in foster care, he was introduced to kayak training and he latched onto it. Out on the water, he blossomed. Having a goal filled him with excitement and gave him purpose. The accident derailed him, extinguishing his hope. It was a monumental achievement to even get Curt to the Y, but Curt did not see the point.
As we toured the building, I looked to see if his eyes perked up when we went through the weight room. I knew he must have spent a lot of time there as part of his training for the Olympics, but there was not even a glimmer. When we got to the pool, though, he seemed to light up; I asked him if he was interested in going for a swim. For some reason, he asked me if I would join him. And I froze. I was never very good in the pool, but I knew he would only go in if I joined him.
Even without the use of his legs, Curt moved effortlessly in the pool. Me, not so much. He seemed to get a kick out of watching me struggle. For the next few months, Curt came into the Y to swim every day, and I watched him get stronger and faster in the pool. In fact, his workouts soon extended into the weight room, and the physique that once propelled him toward the Olympics started to take form. The physical transformation, though, was only part of the story. His experience at the Y was a big step forward. His friend, whom I soon came to realize was his foster parent, felt that this was a life-changing moment for Curt. In the brief time Curt had been a member of the Y, he had become quite the celebrity; you could often hear his voice throughout the facility.
One morning, Curt came into my office to say goodbye. He was leaving the Y. He shared with me that he was leaving a stronger person – stronger both physically and spiritually. He also shared that for a year before he came to the Y, he had isolated himself and let his life slip away. Looking back, the fact that his foster parent brought him into the Y and got him into the pool that day was a miracle. He was grateful for the people at the Y who surrounded him and helped him believe in himself once again.
I have not seen or heard from Curt since, though I sometimes wonder where he landed. Listening to the stories at the Amara luncheon, I know Curt must be doing okay. He, like the other foster children I have met at the Y, grew stronger because people around him supported him and gave him the strength to believe in himself. When you see a person believe in themselves, especially when that belief was not there before, it is something to behold. Curt may have left in his wheelchair that day, but he was standing 10 feet tall. The Y was part of his miracle, re-instilling the hope he once had.
You can help ensure more foster children have access to YMCA programs by donating to the Y this Giving Tuesday, November 28: