2017 Winner

Mikalah Parsons

Vienna, VA

Prior to entering foster care at age 13, the concept and feeling of ‘home’ was elusive.  For years, my biological mother and I moved from place to place, living with friends and relatives, or renting a room in the houses of strangers. I attended five elementary schools, and often took city buses to my friend’s home long before sunrise just so I could finish my middle school years with my classmates.  I rarely had a room - much less a home - to call my own. 

In November of 8th grade, I entered foster care and met the woman who would, three years later, adopt me. I moved into her house with all my belongings in a borrowed suitcase and, for the first time in my life, I did not feel that I had somewhere else to go; I felt as if I finally stabilized myself in a caring, supportive environment and had an actual home. My new room was sunny in the morning, and my foster mom put my awards on the walls, filled my closet with new clothes, and even put my own little Christmas tree on the dresser to make my first holiday in my new home special. While I was apprehensive during that time of transition, I quickly learned that a home is much more than walls and stairs; for me, it has been the foundation for healing, academic success, and happiness.

Homes are like a stage for a family’s story to play out on, and that story is told through lots of rituals that help to develop family unity. Promoting these traditions is important for us kids in foster care because we are trying to fit into a family of strangers who often do not know how to accommodate a new child. For example, I learned that our Christmas tree goes in the same place every year - anchored to a column in the living room to keep our cats from knocking it over; we take the same picture every Thanksgiving, birthday and other big holiday from the middle of the staircase looking down on our dining room table; and during the summer, we dine on the deck surrounded by flowers planted by my new grandmother. I brought some of my own traditions to my new home and bake Buck Eyes - a peanut butter ball covered in chocolate - in our kitchen to share with friends and family on all the big holidays.

Moving into my new home also afforded me the physical space and security to excel in school. My new mom and I even built a desk late one night so I could have room to study. I make the honor roll each semester, was selected for the National Honor Society, won the Girl Scout’s Silver Award, was selected for the National Student Leadership Conference for engineering, am in my high school’s top orchestra, and have lettered in varsity track and varsity cheerleading. When I was with my biological mother, receiving an award or recognition was not honored; I did not feel like I was living in a loving home. But now, with my new mom, I feel that my accomplishments are finally being celebrated.  While I have always known that achieving in school would help me later in life, having a safe home helped to open doors to even more success. 

Our house is not huge, but my new mom kept her piano from her childhood even though it wasn’t being used.  However, I started to make the piano keys sing again. I have played the violin since 6th grade and practice almost daily sitting at the piano. When I open the deck doors, the neighbors can hear me practice, and they compliment me when I see them outside.  During our family dinners, special events, and holidays, my new grandparents and cousins gather around to hear me play both the violin and the piano, which I recently taught myself.  My music helped me during stressful transitions in my life, and I continue to pursue it because it brings even more joy now that I have the safety and security of a home and family.  

We teenagers are busy people and having a home base is important to ensure we keep up with our demanding extracurricular activities.  As a varsity cheerleader and varsity hurdler, sprinter, and jumper, I have a lot of gear that I need to keep.  Our closets are filled with cheer outfits, sneakers, and cleats, and it makes me smile when I open the doors and the evidence of my hard work tumbles out. 

In November of 8th grade, I entered foster care and met the woman who would, three years later, adopt me. I moved into her house with all my belongings in a borrowed suitcase and, for the first time in my life, I did not feel that I had somewhere else to go.

While all of these parts of the house - my sunny room, our busy dining room, our flower-filled deck - have been important in my journey, my favorite part is our family picture wall.  When I came here, I didn’t really know these people, but now the walls of my home are filled with new family, old friends, and shared experiences that are now the fabric of my life.  I had no pictures of myself before the age of 12, so when I was adopted, my mom and her friends tracked down a lot of my class pictures from my many elementary schools.  Now these pictures adorn our walls - like they had been there the whole time. 

Each room in my house has a unique function - a function that helps me to become more comfortable with my surroundings and causes me to yearn for the moments that bring the entire family together. These rooms are different; they all have varied wallpaper and a unique style, but once all the rooms are put together, they form a building that allows every aspect of each person to be expressed and shared with others. From playing the violin to cooking in the kitchen, everyone understands a little more history about each other. These moments allow us to learn more about and love each other - and all of this starts underneath one roof, in one building: a home.

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