Nicole, 17, is a junior in high school and has been involved with the foster care system since childhood. She is an active member of her local chapter of Achieving Maximum Potential (AMP), an Iowa-based youth group that helps foster youth learn advocacy, leadership, and life skills. In her free time, Nicole enjoys working at a local café, hanging out with her siblings, eating ice cream, and making pottery. In the future, she hopes to study psychology and gerontology.
How did your experience in a residential treatment center change your outlook?
Social services placed me in a treatment center when I was 14 after I ran away twice to be with my mom. My brother also ran away so we could go back to our lives with our mom. I was doing things on the run that weren’t so good. Now, looking back, I can honestly say Four Oaks, the treatment center I went to, helped me so much. When I was in Four Oaks, I was so stubborn and I didn’t want to change, but I knew I didn’t want to be like my parents and my brother. I became a role model at Four Oaks and graduated from the program. Through the program I learned some valuable things I won’t forget. There was a specific counselor at Four Oaks named Kyle, who I talked to everyday. He helped me realize the things I needed to do to improve my life.
How did your time in foster care and the residential treatment center inspire you to join AMP?
I was introduced to a lady named Ruth, who is the statewide coordinator for AMP, at an awards ceremony. She told me to give her a call so I did. She met with me and other kids that lived in my house and it all sounded interesting and fun. We never realized that our voices could help other kids in need.
AMP inspired us to tell stories that other kids might have but don’t know they can share. So, we tell our stories and encourage them to tell theirs so more people know that not everyone is perfect. We all have difficult times and no one should have the right to judge because they haven’t been through the tough lives some of us have lived. I feel that I can help others to tell their story and to never be afraid of being judged because we are all unique in our own way.
In AMP, everyone is on your side every step of the way. Since we have all had similar experiences, everyone can really relate to each other and we feel like family. I can tell other kids that you don’t have to be like your parents and that you can improve yourself each day just by making yourself stronger each day.
How do you plan to use your successes to help other foster youth achieve their goals and successfully transition to adulthood?
I plan to get adopted by Ruth and her wonderful family, and go to college, and worry about myself for once, and get my life on track. By doing all of this, I can show other kids that if I can do it they can, too. I plan to try and volunteer places and help other kids move forward in a good way. I have always wanted to go back to places that I have been, like Four Oaks, and just talk to kids and tell them that getting older makes you tougher, and if you just use your voice and stay on track, your future will be brighter.