Ricky is 13 years old. He loves fish and Converse shoes. He wants to be a chef when he grows up. He’s praying for a Bender robot figure from for Christmas.
It’s Sunday. We’re going to my place to make holiday cookies—at his request. When we get there, I balance a grocery bag with one hand and fumble for my keys with the other, tossing my purse onto a chair on my porch in the process. As I forget about the purse and stumble inside, Ricky picks it up and hands it to me wordlessly, a soft, loving reprimand in his eyes.
That’s just one small example of Ricky’s awareness of the need to watch out for yourself—of a maturity that seems beyond his years. I reflect on his gesture, and vow to be more responsible with my things.
Battle Against Time
A seven-year veteran of the foster care system, Ricky knows how to combine caution with care—one among many lessons he has learned. He may even be aware of the gloomy statistics that could easily become a reality for him and thousands of other foster youth in similar situations:
Nearly 50 percent of children who “age out” of foster care will experience homelessness within two years, 60 percent will earn incomes below the federal poverty level, and although 70 percent of the kids exiting foster care report that they want to go to college, only one percent actually graduate from one.
We could focus on such negatives, but like Ricky, I prefer not to. After all, I am his “Weekend Miracles” host, which means that I spend time with him on a regular basis. As his mentor and weekend host, I take Ricky out into the community with me and arrange fun events and new experiences.
We have participated in a cooking class with a professional chef, attended a Dodgers game, shared a meal at and, of course, baked cookies. We have also attended various adoption fairs in hopes of finding Ricky a permanent family. Ricky is well aware that, at his age, this is his last year to attend some of these adoption fairs—he will soon be too old to qualify. Which is why Ricky signs up for each one without hesitation.
Resilient—Despite Constant Rejection
Each time I arrive to pick him up, I find him with his hair combed and styled, dressed in his freshest clothes. One day, I noticed that he had even changed his shoelaces. Still, no family has come forward to offer Ricky a home. His parents are unable to care for him themselves. He does get to see his siblings occasionally—all of whom found permanent homes at a younger age. Sadly, Ricky did not have the same good fortune.
As the years pass, the challenge grows exponentially. The odds of adoption for teenage boys are brutally low. Unlike Ricky, many in this age group exhibit serious emotional or behavioral disturbance, perform poorly in school, or face other challenges. Ricky’s resiliency—not to mention his good nature, excellent performance in school and high emotional intelligence—are exceptional in a boy who has faced the kind of constant rejection he has.
Ricky lives in a group home with about a dozen other adolescent boys. Although it is better run than many other group homes, it is not a welcoming or comforting environment. There is an institutional feel to the place and the cafeteria-style meals. It really doesn’t feel like “home.”
Ricky’s warm demeanor inevitably changes when I take him back to the group home. The polite, generous and almost innocent spirit that has endeared him to me would not serve him well in a minimally supervised building of teenage boys raised with little or no parental affection.
When we return with homemade cookies, Ricky gruffly announces that he made them for the house. Then, with a final passing look, our connection is over. Ricky withdraws, arms folded across his chest as he sinks into a couch to watch whichever action movie on TV that happens to be playing.
As I head out the door, the heavy-heartedness that invariably colors our goodbyes sinks in as if for the first time. I begin to walk across the grass to my car, but this time I hear a metal door open, and turn around to find Ricky running toward me.
“Vanessa!” he calls out as he approaches. “Will you take care of my fish this time?” A few months ago, he downloaded TapFish 2 on my iPhone. It’s a game in which the user maintains a virtual aquarium of fish. Ricky plays with it obsessively during our drives together. Every weekend, he gently ribs me. “You let almost all the fish die,” he says. “The aquarium is filthy and they’re starving!” Then he tirelessly builds up his collection again.
“Here, I can show you—it’s easy,” he pleads. I grudgingly agree. Ricky opens the Tap Fish 2 app, with its menu of 12 icons. “Just once a day, press the 'Sponge' to clean the tank, like this,” he tells me. His finger swipes the icon across the iPhone screen, wiping away a layer of make-believe green algae obscuring our vision of the fish.
“And then after that, just the basics—press ‘Food Canister,’” Ricky continues. As he does so, little flakes of food float silently into the mouths of the multicolor, exotic fish. “That gives them food to eat,” he says, adding: “Then hit the ‘Heart’ button here—because obviously they need love.”
With an appreciative nod, Ricky turns on his heel and walks back inside, while I stand transfixed in the twilight, absorbing his second lesson of the day.
For an opportunity to get to know Ricky, contact Vanessa by email or phone (see below) to arrange to join them on an activity in or around Eagle Rock. Both Ricky and Vanessa love frozen yogurt, trips to the zoo, cooking and eating tacos. To learn more about Kidsave, an international charity group that advocates for Ricky and other adolescent and teenage foster children, click here, and also contact Sybil Prince by email or phone (details below). Kidsave’s monthly events provide a great way for adults interested in mentoring, fostering or adopting a child to meet local foster youth, aged nine years and more, who need mentors and permanent homes.
(310) 642-SAVE (7283), ext. 10