Passionate About Inspiring Others
I am Ashley Garcia , I am 21 years old and a former foster youth that has found her forever family. I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but moved to New York City at the age of seven with my biological mother, Yasy. Life was not a “bowl of cherries” as I was neglected, abused, and lived in shelters. When I was 12, Yasy, met a man online and decided that we would “up and move” to Massachusetts. Once there, she chose to leave and abandoned me with this man. After three months of horrific abuse, torment, and fear for my life I picked up the phone and called the police. I was placed into the foster care system that evening.
In 2010, at fourteen, I was featured on Boston’s Wednesday’s Child. I never expected that anyone would want to adopt a teenager and feared that I would most likely age-out of the system. However, I was shocked to find out that a single woman was looking to adopt an older child. I told my social worker that I was willing to meet her but I admit, I was doubtful. “Who would want to adopt a teenager from foster care? They think we are all delinquents. Was she NUTS? There must be something wrong with her!”
We met over a Banana Split - in the only place that New Englanders can meet for ice cream during the frigid winter months, Friendly’s. Although our conversation was mainly “generic”, something inside me told me “she might be the one”. I asked my social worker if Liz could drive me home. By the time, we arrived at my foster home, I knew I wanted to give this a try. As she drove away, I could see tears streaming down her face, knowing that she did not want to leave me there. I look back now and realize how ready I was for a mom and a forever family. I was done with being moved from foster home to foster home with only my meager belongings thrown into trash bags. My gut told me that my journey was not ending but just beginning.
After “dating” for about six weeks (I know - sounds silly – but what else can you call it) I officially moved into my new home on March 7, 2012, where for the first time in my life, I had my own bedroom and bathroom. While my stomach was doing the Macarena, my head and more importantly my heart told me that this was going to be my forever home. I am not going to lie and say it was not awkward at first. After all – we were complete strangers. Mom however was loving, kind, and patient. She did not expect me to call her “mom”. For about three weeks, I called her Liz but that quickly morphed into “mom”. It felt official that I was at my forever home even before the adoption was finalized. I could finally breath and start to enjoy life, knowing that this was real – a mom, a new life, a forever home.
On my official adoption on National Adoption Day in 2012, I asked my mom about how I could help other foster children. I have always had an inclination to volunteer. Sitting at the kitchen table one evening we discussed how I was going to help other kids. After throwing around many ideas, I decided upon Suitcases of Hope. Suitcases of Hope is dedicated to giving a large duffel bag to a child entering the foster care system instead of using trash bags. Unfortunately, social services do not have the financial means to purchase suitcases or duffel bags to pack a child’s meager belongings before being brought to a foster home. Social workers must use trash bags. I understand how it feels to have belongings placed in a large trash bag as this has happened to me multiple times. I am not trash! In each duffle bag, I include: a stuffed animal, twin sheet set, personal care items (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, brush, shampoo, deodorant), and most importantly the novel, The Suitcases, by Anne Hall Whitt from North Carolina. The novel tells the story of three orphaned sisters, who were taken into foster care during the Great Depression. It is a story of family, loss, survival, and love. I include a personal letter of encouragement inside each book. I know that every duffle bag that I donate helps an abused or neglected child in foster care. It will not take away their fears or emotional heartache, but I hope they will understand that someone loves them and can relate to what they are going through. I would love to be able to provide duffel bags nationwide.
The simple reality is, I would not be here today, if someone like, Liz, my mom, had not taken the chance on me at the age of fifteen. Instead, I most likely would be in jail, pregnant and on welfare, homeless, or dead. It is still surreal to me how adoption has changed my life. I no longer doubt myself or have low self-esteem. After graduating high school in 2015, I took a gap year and volunteered 55 hours a week with City Year/Americorps at the JP Thomas Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina. I currently attend Central Piedmont Community College and plan on transferring to UNC Charlotte.
I am honored to be a national spokesperson for AdoptUSKids. Their tagline is “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent! “I was never looking for someone perfect. I was looking for someone who would love me unconditionally, and make me part of their family. I am Ashley Garcia and I am a survivor