Anyone who has ever planted a sapling knows that it is often necessary to place a stake in the ground and strap it to the trunk for the tree’s first growing season. This kind of support is especially important in a few specific circumstances:
- The roots of the tree are underdeveloped
- The soil conditions are sandy and leave the tree susceptible to movement
- The region is prone to high winds
- The tree is in a location where it will likely be disturbed and damaged by outside forces
These same conditions apply to the children we advocate for every day.
Joe Rogers was born in Sierra Leone and moved to the U.S. with his father at around age 6. The two of them moved around the country staying on the floor of other people’s houses and in hotels. Between 2nd and 5th grade, Joe reports that he attended 5 different elementary schools. He and his dad eventually landed in Charlotte where they stayed with multiple families. While he was attending Ashley Park Elementary School, Joe had one pair of shoes, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, two shirts and two pair of underwear. Each night, he remembers washing his clothes in the sink of a community bathroom.
One Christmas during 3rd grade, all of Joe’s classmates were excited about the upcoming holiday, but Joe remembers not even really knowing what Christmas was. Class had just been dismissed for winter break and Joe was about to take off. His teacher pulled him aside and gave him a large bag. All of the teachers had gone together to buy him new clothes. While a gesture like this could certainly feel different ways to different kids, Joe remembers how happy he felt that they had done this.
While in Charlotte, Joe’s father worked at a gas station. One of his coworkers saw just how hard of a time he was having providing stability for Joe and offered to help out until he could get back on his feet. Joe went to stay with this man, his wife and their two sons. This couple was experiencing some instability of their own at the time and eventually got a divorce. Also, during this time, Joe’s dad moved to Texas and left Joe in Charlotte. This short-term arrangement was no longer temporary. Through it all, however, the woman that Joe calls mom to this day knew that Joe needed stability more than anything. According to Joe she felt that “regardless of what all I have going on, I need to put myself aside because there is somebody in need.” She became a foster parent expressly for the purpose of caring for Joe.
Joe describes this as the greatest time of his life to that point. He had a bed for the first time ever. For a kid that spent his life traveling from house to house, this was a really big deal. He shared, “Having my own bed symbolized to me that I belonged to somebody finally.”
He had some semblance of stability and he had a mom who was committed to being there. However, his years of instability prior to this led to a soul that craved chaos and thrived in it. Joe doesn’t hesitate to admit that he often found ways as a teenager to create chaos wherever he went. In fact, he has found that this tendency followed him into adulthood. He shares, “When things get too dormant, too easy, I tend to get nervous”. He often thinks, “This is good now, but let’s not get too comfortable because it might not last.”
So while the lack of a developed root system, shifting sandy soil, the winds of chaos and the trauma of outside forces did all they could to take him down, Joe stands tall and he would say his mom has a lot to do with that. He is a husband, father, and community leader who is giving back through local organizations to make sure kids who are growing up in the same conditions he did have the stability they need to thrive.
Being a stake in the ground for another person can be dirty work that requires a long season of waiting patiently. But it is work that results in the kind of roots that produce mighty oaks.
NOTE: An extended version of Joe’s story is featured in episode 15 of the Foster Movement Podcast. It’s available for download from iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Overcast.
A version of this article first appeared in CAFO’s regular Foster Movement column of the Fostering Families Today magazine (Sep/Oct 2019 issue). To learn more about how you or your organization can subscribe to this great resource, click here.