Noah J. Ehlert
A few months ago, I was asked to write about my life in foster care. Writer’s block took over and I couldn’t find the words I wanted to share. That is until I saw the recent news from Fostering Family Hope.
In an email newsletter they shared photos of the DCF project they worked on to update the rooms and spaces families use to seek counseling from professionals to get their families back together. What was once a dark, bland space was transformed into an expressive, bright area of hope. The walls now painted in primary colors, the furniture updated to a welcoming and cozy environment. Some of which my family and I donated.
To know we had a small part in helping Fostering Family Hope achieve such an important change inspired me and I have been able to work through that dreaded writer’s block.
I am twenty-five years out of the foster care system, and over the last few years especially, I have spent a lot of time piecing together what was going on. As a kid, and even a teen, bouncing from place to place, I got many odd looks being the new kid. My story was different every place I went, from staying with an uncle or a cousin or a stranger I eventually stopped telling people about myself. Before I realized the impact it would have on me, I was already invisible.
What most people may not realize about having to move a lot, even if it’s the same town, is that you are constantly having to leave things behind. Things get lost in the shuffle or even destroyed because you don’t have the means to take care of your things properly. When you’re just a kid, your things can ground you to a place.
When I was six, I tried to run away - it would be my first attempt of many. I remember sitting in my room contemplating what to put in my bag. What was important to me and what was necessary.
Through my upbringing, I have developed a severe form of nostalgia. I am a collector of many things now. Things that had been taken from me, left behind in a rush to move on to the next place, destroyed or lost. I haven’t wanted to completely forget my past because all these years later I realize it has helped me become the man I am, a sentimental, ambitious man who understands the emotional impact a turbulent childhood has on a person.
In fifth grade, I was staying with my grandparents again. The scholastic book order form came home, and I was allowed to get one book. I sat for hours trying to decide which book it would be. I’d check a box with excitement and then a couple rows down I’d see another title and quickly put a check by it too. By the time I was done the paper was a scribbled mess. I handed my messy order form into my teacher, Mrs. Clark, her dark curly hair and clear framed reading glass took the paper I agonized over with such ease. A few weeks later, I arrived at class and found my desk lid was open. I panicked, fearing someone stole my eraser collection or destroyed my things. But instead, I saw that the desk was propped open by a stack of books.
A stack of books so high the desk could not close properly.
A stack of books from my scholastic book order form.
Every book I had checked and tried to erase was in those stacks.
I approached Mrs. Clark and she said she couldn’t tell which ones I really wanted so she purchased them all. That summer, I began writing short stories. The next year I spent hours at the library reading Stephen King. As an adult, I have written and directed several award-winning films in my fifteen-year career as a filmmaker in New York City.
As I awaited the birth of my first child I wrote a book called, “Brothers of An Only Child” in which I wrote stories about the men who impacted my life. I sought them out and photographed them. I took the time to not only write about them but to personally tell them they made a difference in my life.
When I think of my youth, I try to visit those times when someone recognized my worth. Mrs. Clark is one of those momentous times. She could have easily handed me back the order form and told me to do it again, but she didn’t. She spent her own money to gift me books that would inspire me but ultimately get lost in the shuffle of my chaotic life.
Even though the materials met an unfortunate end, the gift she gave was never lost on me.
This is how I feel about Fostering Family Hope. When I looked at the before pictures of the DCF rooms compared to the after photos I saw not only a beautiful space, but love, genuine care and inspiration. If I could have been welcomed into a room like that when I was trying to be reconnected with my family, it would have brought me a lot more hope.
Fostering Family Hope created a place with value, their actions let you know you matter, and that you are worth so much more than you realize. And when you are a kid, a teenager, a parent, going through a difficult time, sometimes for the third or fourth time, feeling worthwhile is a beautiful thing.
When you feel worthy, when you feel valued, you aren’t afraid to tell someone who you are, where you are from, and where you want to go. You won’t feel invisible, forgotten about, unloved, because you’ll believe, even if it’s just a little bit, you’ll believe you have what it takes to be someone.
I hope I have the chance to hear some of the stories of the people touched by the work Fostering Family Hope is doing. And I hope that the work I am doing with the aging out of foster care youths will align with them someday.
A few months ago we held an event at Willow Salon in Guilford. We welcomed seven kids, ages 16 – 21 into the wellness salon, pampered them with self-care and love. I was talking to one of the young girls and she thanked me for getting her together with other kids like her. She explained that it isn’t very often she is around someone else who has also aged out of the foster care system, and she said that it made her feel less alone.
We can make a difference in so many lives, no matter the age.
Thank you for what you do. Your kindness and your heart matter.