Graduate of the Year

Each year Our Mother’s home celebrates the determination and accomplishment of a graduate.

2013 Graduate of the Year: Carmelina Gomez-Lucas

To your left you see a blushing, beautiful bride full of hope. But less than 8 years ago, any hope she had of a bright future was darkened. Carmelina was brought here under false pretense. She left a loving family in Guatemala with someone who promised her parents she would have a better life. Isn’t that what everyone wants for their child?

Instead, she experienced things no person, let alone a child, should ever have to endure. At age 15, we welcomed her to Our Mother’s Home. She learned how to take care of her children, the value of education and how to build on her faith as a foundation for her future.

When she turned 18, the law required her stay at Our Mother’s Home to end. Although she had learned a lot about being independent, she was alone and feeling scared when she had to leave with her two young children in 2011. Florida law mandated that our residents must leave when they turn 18. Fortunately, Julie Kuhns had begun volunteering for us just a few months before Carmelina’s birthday. It was the beginning of a

2012 Graduate of the Year: Maria

My name is Maria S., I am 23 years old and I have a son named David, he is seven years old. He was a belated birthday present; he was born just after I turned 16. I now know he was the best present I could have ever asked for because I did not realize then what a gift he was until I overcame the hurt that brought me to this point.

How did I get to this point? A question many of you wonder. I was born in Guatemala, living with my mom, Ana who I loved. When I was 14, my sister invited me to the United States to babysit her children. I was young, naive and eager for the better life that was promised. My mom thought it was a great opportunity. Little did I know I would have to walk through the desert for 6 days, hungry, dehydrated, in fear for my life as helicopters hovered overhead and animals howled, screeched and slithered all around me.

When I arrived in Florida, I thought the worst part was behind me. It was not. I lived with my sister, watched her kids and did the household duties for a year. Then I got pregnant; it was not my choice. My first thought was to abort because I could not think of another solution. I felt so alone; I was afraid to tell my sister. When I finally went to the clinic in Miami I was already 5 months pregnant and the procedure would cost much more. I felt helpless.

I was so depressed; I was not sleeping, eating or taking care of myself. After lots of sleepless nights and tortured days, I decided perhaps I should give my child up for adoption and felt hopeful. But then my sister found out and I was told to leave her house.

I was more alone and afraid than I could ever imagine. I kept going to school even though I had nowhere to live. After my teacher insisted, I told her what happened. She showed me kindness I had not known since I left home by allowing me to live with her temporarily.

With a roof over my head, and food to eat, I prayed about my choices and chose to keep my son, be his mother and love him. I simply could not give him up after all the pain I went through and I realized then that he was my greatest gift. I needed to learn how to heal from this trauma and learn how to be a mother. Then more good news came. Friends at school told me about this place called Our Mother’s Home.

When my case manager brought me to Our Mother’s Home, it was supposed to be temporary because there was no funding for me. I sat in the car with my three week old baby, crying about my situation. The then Executive Director came to the car, I explained that while I was grateful for everything my teacher had done, I knew I need more help to be a mother. She told me she would find a way to get the funding and she did!

While at Our Mother’s Home, I learned English, met other young women in similar situations, was taught how to be a better mother to my child. The staff encouraged us to continue school and loved us unconditionally.

Thanks to my experiences, lessons learned and all the love and support I have received, I am gainfully employed by DCF as a full time clerk, I go to school and I care for my child. I love watching him grow and I am excited to see this bright, respectful and loving boy become a responsible, successful man.

I know some will judge me without knowing who I am or even how I came to this point in my life. My response: I know that I am a child of God, I faced adversity and with God’s help, I have overcome it. I look forward to what God has in store for my future. I am grateful to the many people He has put in my life who in some way, have touched mine and David’s lives for generations to come.

2011 Graduate of the Year: Lakeisha

I was raised in Fort Myers by a single mom and 3 brothers. Although life was already a challenge nothing prepared me for how my life would change when my mom got involved with a man who was an alcoholic, drug dealer. I began receiving regular abuse from both my mom and this man, physically, emotionally and later sexually. I rarely had enough food to eat, relied on school lunch programs and soup kitchens and often lacked running water.

The worst part was that no one listened to me about the abuse: not my grandmother, uncle, counselors. Not even my own mother believed me. In fact, it was not until I got pregnant at age 14 that they finally believed me.

I entered foster care when I had my baby. We separated because placement that would accept me with a baby was not available. Gratefully, I was reunited with my baby in 2002 when a bed became available at Our Mother’s Home.

While at Our Mother’s home, I felt the anger from mistrust lessen. Here I received a foundation where all my basic needs were met but I also received counseling, tutoring, independent life and parenting skills. I even was able to get a job. I earned honors in school and graduated with a scholarship to Edison. Most of all I had the support of a loving staff that nurtured and protected me; the light of love shone on me.

Although I still face challenges today, I am only a two classes away from my associate’s degree; I have 3 healthy children who remain in my custody and I have broken the foster care cycle. My only hurdle now is a car that runs so I can finish my last two classes.

When I entered foster care, I was like a small seed in a world of darkness lacking proper TLC to grow but upon arriving at OMH I was given the gift of opportunity. All my needs were met that provided my seed life and that life helped a flower emerge from beneath, blossoming for everyone to witness!