Like most boys, Nick Myane enjoys working on his car. After school, he holds down a part-time job to pay for gas and insurance. But unlike most 18 year olds, Nick doesn't have a Dad to ask for help when something needs fixing. "Ever since I was little it was just me and my Mom so basically when I wasn't with her I was kind of raising myself," says Nick.
As time went on, things began to take a toll on nick, leaving him angry and confused. When he was 12, his Mom could no longer handle him. Nick explains, "I wasn't exactly a perfect child. So, I think the main reason I got into foster care is because I was kind of out of control."
Cindy Hodges with Child Protective Services says there are about 300 teenagers, like Nick, in the state's care in Northeast Texas, but few foster homes in this area willing to take them. "We have a lot of foster parents that are under the notion, if we take in a child that is smaller and younger we can mold that child and give them a better life, but we have so many teenagers that need that same opportunity," Cindy says.
After spending about a year in foster care, Nick improved his behavior. At 13, he went back home. Things seemed to be going well and he was getting along with his Mom. They were starting to get their lives back together when his mother became ill. A short time later she died. "The one thing I tell all my friends is you never realize what you have until it's gone and that was my case with my Mom," says Nick in a soft voice.
With no one left to take care of him, Nick was put back in foster care. He ended up the Van Zandt County Children's Shelter in Fruitvale, near Canton. He made quit an impression right away, "He keeps his curfew. You can depend on him to be where he says and those things are so important when you're building trust with a teenager," says Inez Dale. She has been the Foster Mom at the shelter since 1992. "I don't want to paint a rosy picture because it's tough to take care of teenagers," she says.
But over the years, Inez figured out all these kids really want is a parent. She explains, "The kids who come here are seeking boundaries. They want rules. They want me to keep my word. So, when I make a rule, make a promise, make a punishment, they want me to keep that." Nick adds, "Ms. Inez has been a parent to me just like my Mom was."
So, what happens to foster children once they turn 18 and begin thinking about their future? "A foster child is eligible to go to any state college free of charge if they remain in our Foster Care System," says Cindy Hodges. The state made that change nine years ago. Foster children can stay in the system until they are 21, as long as they stay in school.
For Nick, without the help college would be a lot more difficult. "It's going to help me a lot and I don't plan on abusing that. I'm going to use it wisely. My main thing is just stay in school because, in today's society, if you don't have school you don't have as many job opportunities. That's why I plan on going to college," says Nick.
Looking back on his life Nick says he learned, the hard way, the value of a parent, biological or foster. "Now I realize that 90% of my behavior problems were stupid. Parents are with you through thick or thin and without parents, kids get pretty messed up." As Nick gets ready for graduation the end of May, he says his Mom would approve of the way he's turned out. "Without a doubt. She'd be real proud," he says with a smile.
As Nick prepares to head out into the real world on his own once again, he'll always know the Van Zandt County Children's Center is home, the place where he got the one thing he needed most, the Gift of Love. Inez says, "Nick knows that he can come back here anytime."
Nick is hoping to go to Kilgore College followed by a four year university. While the state will take care of his tuition, he says he will get a job to help pay for his other living expenses.
If you'd like to know more about adopting or fostering a teenager, call our Gift of Love hotline. The toll free number is 1-888-kids-275.