Our group homes and independent living apartments are located on a 30+ acre park-like campus in Henrico County, Virginia. This neighborhood setting provides ample space for quiet walks or exciting ball games on our fields. Read these real stories to find out how important our Transitional Living Services are to a youth in crisis.
Justin has the opportunity for ‘homeruns’
Virginia Home for Boys and Girls addresses the problem of belonging. The youth we serve need to find a place where they belong and are seen so they can find hope and healing from their trauma. They often feel like they don’t belong to a family or they don’t belong at a school. Justin is that child. With both parents incarcerated, no structure or guidance, poor impulse control, and a lack of anger management, Justin, just 13, ran away adding to his risk-taking behaviors. Behaviors such as these prevented him from entering a traditional foster care home. He actually needs to learn how to live in a healthy family, learn what triggers his behavior, and learn to have hope for his future as he takes the time he needs to transition to a permanent home. With no parents or other family to care for him, Justin felt a great deal of sadness. He came to us without even feeling like he had a friend. Right away, group home counselors started to ‘normalize’ life for Justin. Like many boys his age, spring baseball was at the top of his list of things he was willing to try. He’d never played on a team before. But our counselors knew this would help him learn coping skills and give him a sense of belonging. This was Justin’s start at developing healthy relationships that will give him a fighting chance in life beyond our campus. Caring adults at VHBG gathered together all his needed baseball equipment and have even volunteered a shift at the little league concession stand so Justin feels like all the other kids who have support from a loving parent. Justin only recently started to dream of his possibilities. Will he get a hit, slide into home base, or catch a high fly? The point is that he has the opportunity for future “home runs” because donors, volunteers, and community stakeholders make Virginia Home for Boys and Girls possible to youth like him.
Stephen was asked by his school teacher ‘what do you want your life’s legacy to be?”
He replied with the statement that he wanted people to know that he’d been through a really tough life that most people couldn’t go through, but that he’d overcome it. Stephen entered the foster care system at age 10 being removed from the only family he’d ever known. With his safety and that of his five siblings in jeopardy, they were separated in different foster homes. After failing to thrive at one home, he bounced to another and failed again. His emotional and behavioral health indicated that he needed to learn to heal from his trauma. He was a young teen who was angry, confused, and sad. But Stephen’s last foster family didn’t give up on him. What Stephen needed was transition. He needed to be in a place that could help him learn about his behaviors before he was ready to accept that these foster parents were going to give him a new home and a new family of his own. So, Stephen came to VHBG and lived in a group home. During Stephen’s transitional time, he wasn’t perfect. By his own account, he was a challenge. “I wasn’t my best, I was on a rampage”, he said. But over a two-year period, he began to mature and accept the counseling and therapy he needed. And during that time, his foster family hung in there with him. They invited him to family dinners – which he refused. They included him in holidays – which he ignored. They stayed in contact and were there for him when he was ready. Stephen says he had an awakening. He began to dream and to have hope. He transitioned back to his foster family with a new perspective. He improved his grades, got a job, learned how to drive, is finishing his senior year in high school, and has applied to college. He’s set a goal to have a career in engineering at NASA. Triggered by the teacher who asked about his legacy, Stephen insisted on coming back to VHBG as a motivational speaker at the ripe old age of 17. Accompanied by his foster father, he sat around a table with the boys from his group home and said ”look at me. If I can make it so can you and here’s how.” He had a playbook of sorts for them to follow that included this advice:
“Take advantage of the opportunity you have at VHBG. It’s not just a place to live, it’s a place to grow and figure yourself out. You’re different. You’ve had a lot happen to you so you’re tough. Use that strength to overcome your challenges. These people here care about you. Listen to them. I’m so sorry for how I acted here, but they understand. I had nothing. Now I have a permanent home and a family that really cares about me. I’m going to celebrate all of the holidays like a family. I have an opportunity to be something great. You do too.”
Dyana’s wish to be reunited with her siblings came true!
More than three years ago, Dyana’s family was disrupted. The trauma of neglect and abuse left her and her three siblings with behavioral and emotional issues that required different levels of care. Like most youth in crisis due to family dysfunction, they needed a safe place to live but these siblings were not able to move into traditional foster care because a foster home was not available. They were also not ready for traditional foster care because their trauma had triggered behaviors that would prevent them from being successful in a home where the provider may not have the training and experience to handle their destructive actions. VHBG was specifically selected by Dyana’s social worker who pleaded “we need you to help get these siblings back together.” VHBG was the level of care they needed and had the ability to keep these youth together with a plan to reunify them with their mother who was in counseling to learn how to provide a healthy family environment for her children. These youth could have been spread out all over the state of Virginia limiting their communication and visitation with each other which would have put reunification further away. Keeping them together at VHBG was also a more trauma-informed approach to their care. The fact that most of these siblings were stepping down from higher-level programs and had been separated for years also meant that they needed a transitional living experience. Unlike other group homes without a campus environment, VHBG is able to care for boys and girls of varying ages in separate homes while keeping them within walking distance of each other. Imagine how much easier this was for family meetings, caseworker visits, and the siblings. And, two of these siblings were able to attend our on-campus John G. Wood school to catch up to their grade level and all of them were able to benefit from our on-campus therapeutic resource center. VHBG transitioned these siblings from a higher level of care that they no longer needed to their forever home.
Imagine the sound of a large, iron bell ringing in the distance on a cold and snowy day – not once, but 27 times.
Any time a loud bell on our campus can be heard ringing, you can expect that a happy occasion of some kind just occurred. Libbie was ringing that bell with all her might. With a huge smile on her face, she was telling the world that she’d found a home just in time for Christmas. It was a long road for Libbie and she’d spent 27 months at VHBG learning to heal from her trauma, learning to build relationships, and working on how to transition to a new school and home. At 15, Libbie had already spent more than half of her life in treatment facilities and failed to find success in a foster-to-adopt home. The missing step for her was not having the appropriate time and care to transition to a lower level of care. Severe abuse and neglect in her young life had left her with an uncorrected vision problem, obesity, depression, and behavior challenges. But Libbie was able to have a happy childhood and experience the joy of life while at VHBG because your donation helped us provide the most natural environment for her while still providing her with the supports she needed. Libbie won student of the month several times at our John G. Wood School and received the counseling she needed from our Therapeutic Resource Center located just steps away from the group home she shared with other girls. At Libbie’s going away party, she expressed gratitude for everyone’s love. She said she appreciated everything that everyone had done for her and that she would never forget VHBG.
Imagine how good it feels to overcome a challenge. Now imagine you’re 12-years-old.
“In the beginning, when I first came to John G. Wood School, I hated it. I felt like I could not do anything fun. I felt like everyone was against me. I felt like I didn’t belong here so I started acting out. Then one day my teacher was really trying to relate to me. She started talking to me and helping me with my feelings. She really did love me. So did everyone else. I wanted to ask them, “why do you guys love me even though I’m rude and mean sometimes?” But I know they would say I’m just that type of person that can’t go on living without being loved. I used to think love was poison that went through you. It really killed you inside. It made you hurt. Maybe I was wrong. I then started doing my work and getting A’s. I still need to work on things and will always need to. I’m ready to go to public school to fight through the challenges that it gives me. Change, even though we don’t like it, it’s a part of life and always will be. I take a step every day and I get stronger. There’s that saying and I think it’s right, “nobody ever said life would be easy, but it will be worth it.” Every person in the world has a choice to be incredible or make bad choices. Maybe I chose the right path. All of my teachers helped me a lot. But it wasn’t just the grownups that I learned from it was every kid in the JGW elementary school. I didn’t really like kids, but now I do. I feel loved and that I belong with my peers. I’m a popular kid. They taught me a lot about nature, animals, and insects. I was more like their big sister and they were my little brothers and sisters. They are smart kids and I know they will choose the right path just like I did. I believe in all of them like I believe in myself.”
Imagine that you live in poverty.
Now imagine that what little you own just went up in flames due to a house fire. This is what happened to Eric and his mom. They were left homeless and had no other family support. Unfortunately, mom found drugs as a way to cope with her loss and didn’t have the resilience to secure new housing for her son. Eric was neglected. For two years, the toxic stress of homelessness and a drug-addicted mother took its toll. Eric’s emotional and behavioral health suffered. Child Protective Services intervened but traditional foster care was not available for 12- year-old Eric. So he was placed at VHBG in need of trauma-informed care. Over the next nine months, Eric lived at VHBG in a safe, supportive environment in one of our group homes. Eric began to heal. He and his mom are participating in family and individual counseling and are on their way to being reunited. I’m sure you understand how Eric aches for a place to call home with his mom but he is so thankful that VHBG is here for him now. Eric has hope for a better life with his mom and, because of people like you, a brighter future awaits him.
Can you imagine being fully independent by age 18?
Shana didn’t choose her childhood. She was born into a family of illegal substance abusers. Even her aunts, uncles, and grandparents were well-known in her small town for drug crimes. There were no extended family members to save Shana. With younger siblings, she assumed the role of their caretaker. Often living in abandoned houses in rural parts of Virginia she was judged by her peers (in her
words) as ‘trash’. As if poverty and living around the illegal drug scene weren’t enough, her father committed suicide in an extremely violent way. By the time she reached middle school, she was stealing milk from the cafeteria to feed her baby brother. Shana and her siblings were eventually placed in different foster homes and she settled into a defensive attitude trying to prove that she wasn’t the ‘trash’ that everyone assumed she was. Her academic journey was also rough and her unaddressed trauma lead her to act out in ways that got her in trouble. Foster care couldn’t meet her needs and she dropped out of school. She entered a mental health treatment facility where she was guided to therapy and learned to express herself through art. She began to heal from the abuse and neglect she suffered as a child and began to plan for her future. Shana’s natural artistic talents quickly turned into a career aspiration and dream of becoming an artist. But Shana had no supports in her life and was incapable of being independent at 18. Her choices after discharge were to either become homeless or enter an independent living arrangement (ILA). Shana was motivated to seek a better life than what she’d experienced and enrolled in VHBG’s ILA. She got an apartment on VHBG’s campus where she felt safe and supported. She started working on her diploma and got a job with a goal to be a graphic designer. Shana continues to deal with her emotional scars and fights the feelings of shame and disappointment she has for her family. But her VHBG counselors helped her focus on good choices so she could choose to learn the skills she needs to be independent. She said she’s excited and planning to have a successful adult life.
Bobby was reunited with his biological mother
and half-siblings he’d never met. He is thrilled!
Virginia Home for Boys and Girls addresses the problem of belonging. The youth we serve need to find a place where they belong and are seen so they can find hope and healing from their trauma. They often feel like they don’t belong to a family or they don’t belong at a school. When he was only an infant, Bobby was abandoned by his teen, single mother who disappeared from the state. His grandfather raised him as best he could, but his own mental instability and deteriorating physical health often interrupted Bobby’s healthy development. Neglected and alone, Bobby didn’t know how to cope. By the time he was eleven-years-old his physical behavior became a threat to himself and others. He was sent to a treatment facility as a last resort. Once stable enough, Bobby was ready to transition back home, but returning to grandpa wasn’t safe. VHBG was just the right kind of transitional living Bobby needed. He spent more than two years living in our therapeutic neighborhood and attending our John G. Wood School. Here he learned anger management and developed resilience. Counseling and group home living helped Bobby experience healthy family life, accept adult direction, learn independent living skills, manage emotions and develop true connections for the first time in his life. Despite great progress, his long history of difficult behaviors and mental health struggles made it extremely difficult for social workers to find Bobby a permanent home. A foster home was finally lined up only to cause Bobby extreme disappointment when the family changed their mind the night before he was scheduled to make the move. Working through ‘Family Find’ we located Bobby’s mother who has spent the last 14 years growing herself, though totally disconnected from Bobby. From across the country, using telehealth technology, she put in an incredible effort to connect with Bobby and prepare for their reunification. She learned about trauma and the impact it’s had on Bobby; she learned parenting skills for teenagers with difficult behaviors; she accepted responsibility and, with the help of the VHBG team, made her case to the local judge to get her parental rights reinstated. Finally, Bobby is home.
With a name like “Joy” you automatically expect a person with a face glowing with happiness.
Instead, Joy’s face projected the misery and despair she felt. Thin from neglect and starved of education, at the age of 13 she lived with a mother who didn’t care for her. She went unnoticed until her school reported her truancy and poor grades to authorities who investigated and found Joy living in unsafe conditions. Her toxic home environment included emotionally draining verbal abuse from her mother. Joy’s trauma manifested in behaviors that made finding a traditional foster home for her impossible. Joy needed a safe place to live and learn the resilience skills that would help her be successful in the future. VHBG was the best place for her to live while she learned to heal from her trauma and make a plan to transition to a more permanent home. Because Joy had never lived in a safe, loving home she suffered from depression and a mood disorder. She couldn’t remember having a good night’s sleep due to nightmares and she’d never really had a nutritious meal. Staff immediately remedied that and offered her ways to appropriately express her frustration and calm her nerves. She used art as a channel for her feelings and painted pictures – often humorous. Journaling helped her express her feelings and she decorated her bedroom with bedding that was cozy and comfortable. She entered our John G. Wood School and improved her grades and took our Culinary Arts class where she learned cooking skills. Laughing and having fun experiences at VHBG gave Joy confidence. An aunt that Joy barely knew was located and was willing to adopt her but Joy was apprehensive and pushed her away. However, her aunt persisted and proved to Joy that she wasn’t going to give up on her which made Joy happy as she planned for her discharge from VHBG. At Joy’s farewell party, staff and housemates marveled at her transformation from a sad child into a really funny person. “She kept us in stitches,” said one of the Youth Counselors. We think getting her first really good night’s sleep was the beginning of helping bring out her amazing sense of humor. We’re just so glad to see her happy now and truly full of Joy.
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