BYC Alum Featured in the NY Times
A Bronx Youth Center alumna, Shaqueana People, and her extraordinary successes despite overwhelming obstacles were just featured in the New York Times! With us, she was able to get her high school equivalency, enroll in college, and get the support she needed to set herself up for a lifetime of success despite the challenges she faced in the foster care system. Read the full article below or on the New York Times' website now!
Help Through Foster Care, Toward a Career of Helping Others
By EMILY PALMER DEC. 15, 2016
Shaqueana Peoples’s mother quit on her when she was 15.
She had been told by a doctor earlier in 2005 that she had Type 2 diabetes, but her mother ignored doctor’s orders meant to help improve her daughter’s health. She continued to order takeout for dinner, bought frozen meals and did not make sure her daughter took her medicine.
Ms. Peoples’s health rapidly deteriorated. She was rushed to the hospital nearly 20 times that year because of medical emergencies. Sick and not attending school, she was assigned a social worker, who also looked for signs of possible parental neglect.
Then, during one of a series of routine hospitalizations, hospital employees suggested that her mother place her in the foster care system.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Ms. Peoples recalled. “I felt abandoned, like my mother had given up on me. Looking back, she didn’t know how to deal with me as well as her other two kids. She didn’t show me the same kind of love as the others, and I’d been in a rage for years.”
As the middle child, Ms. Peoples had often felt left out, as her mother favored her older brother and younger sister. She said she was rebellious as a teenager, and often got into explosive fights with her mother. Contentious family life was all she knew. Then she was moved into the foster care system.
“I was nervous. I was crying. I was conflicted,” she said. “I’d been with my family all my life. I didn’t know how to live with someone that wasn’t part of my family.”
A month after entering an all-girls group home in Brooklyn, Ms. Peoples ran away. Over the next six years, she moved through one group home and six family placements, carrying her belongings from one home to the next in a suitcase provided by her social worker. She preferred to live in a household with other foster children, and not with biological children, because she was treated more fairly, she said.
Her frequent moves meant enrolling in different schools and meeting new teachers, and she fell further behind in school with every relocation. She eventually dropped out of school in 10th grade, when she was 17. She became too old for the foster care system at 21.
The Children’s Aid Society, one of eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, was there with her during all the moves and has continued to provide her with help since she entered the system 11 years ago. At one point, Children’s Aid helped place Ms. Peoples in a facility in Virginia for children with disabilities, to have her diabetes monitored.
The Children’s Aid Society also helped ease her transition out of the foster care system, through a program that provides housing assistance and job training. She learned to drive, enrolled in high school equivalency classes, obtained licenses in certified nursing and home health treatment, applied for subsidized housing and put money into savings. Social workers at the Children’s Aid Society guided her through every step, she said.
When she graduated from the Borough of Manhattan Community College with an associate degree in community health, the Children’s Aid Society provided her with $100 in Neediest Cases funds to buy a dress for the graduation ceremony.
Ms. Peoples now attends Hunter College, where she receives financial aid through academic scholarships. She qualified for assistance through a program for foster children that supplies $753 a month for school and living expenses. Ms. Peoples also receives Medicaid, $190 in food stamps and a $200 monthly stipend for living expenses from Children’s Aid, provided to foster children attending college.
Children’s Aid also used $457 in Neediest Cases funds toward two months in rent arrears. In 2014 the organization used $1,098 in Neediest Cases funds to cover rent and living expenses, as well as a MetroCard to travel to class.
On a recent November day, walking along the college’s colorful indoor bridge that connects buildings across Lexington Avenue, Ms. Peoples, now 27, spoke animatedly about majoring in biology. Her bright red-lipped smile carried through a conversation about her darkest moments entering the foster care system and about the pride she felt celebrating her first graduation this summer.
Dressed in a floral jacket and black leather boots and carting a snakeskin bag filled with schoolbooks and healthy snacks, she said she was working to take care of herself, both inside and out.
“I wanted to better understand and monitor my diabetes,” Ms. Peoples said about deciding on her major. “Not just to go to the doctor to get information but to know how the food I eat interacts with my body.”
She recently became a member at a gym, has started taking Zumba and yoga classes at school and is rollerblading at a park in her Bronx neighborhood. She also cooks most of her food — baked chicken is a frequent meal — and incorporates whole wheat into her diet.
Because of her lifestyle changes, she is now off all diabetes medication and can maintain normal blood sugar levels with diet and exercise. She has lost more than 50 pounds in the last six months.
Now she would like to help others in impoverished communities make healthy dietary decisions, she said. She is pursuing a career in social work. Specifically, after seeing the effects of poverty in the Bronx, she has turned her attention to the plight of the homeless.
“Having a support system through hardship is so important,” she said. “And oftentimes the homeless don’t have that. The situation of the homeless lays heavy on my heart. That’s where I see my chance to help others.”