People often ask what brings kids to Cookson Hills. Each child’s story is different and unique, but sometimes a child’s path to Cookson Hills begins the day they are born, due to choices made by the adult caregivers in their life. You see, when parents abandon their children, they are bruising an innocent child, inflicting trauma on the heart of the very one who has been entrusted to their care. The houseparents and other staff members at Cookson Hills step in to provide love and care in a therapeutic setting, hoping to heal some of those hurts. One of our past Cookson kids, Brandi, recently shared some of her story with us.
“My biological father signed away his rights when I was about six months old. I lived with my maternal grandparents until I was 11 years old. During that time, my mom was in and out of jail for multiple charges. In other words, not the perfect way childhood is played out in the movies you watch while growing up. Nevertheless, my grandparents gave me love and attention, but they could never fill that void or satisfy my longing for a relationship with my biological parents.
The thoughts and feelings of what I now know to be abandonment consumed my daily life, but while growing up, I had no access to counseling. There were countless nights when the phone would ring, but I would just overhear my grandparents telling my mother that at least they knew where she was and that she was safe, but they were not going to bail her out.”
Kids like Brandi ride a roller-coaster of emotions as they pass between caregivers and oftentimes have to process very adult situations, while balancing school, friendships, and extracurricular activities. Next, Brandi continued to share how her story unfolded as she entered the turbulent world of middle school and high school in her small Indiana town.
“Fast forward to age 11, my mother got out of work release, came to my grandparents, and took me. She made me live with her – a person I barely knew. Around the end of middle school, I started acting out, and I became a bully. I was an extremely angry kid. All I wanted was a relationship with my mother, but she was only focused on my now-adoptive father.
I knew there was something different about me. I knew I wasn’t like the other girls in my grade and prayed every single day to be normal. Being raised as a Christian, I knew my way of life was wrong. In high school it came out in the open that I was gay. My parents found out and couldn’t bear to even have me live with them. They disowned me. They said things that can never be unsaid.
Soon after, they found out about Cookson Hills and made the phone call. After a few phone interviews, the next thing I knew, I was packed up and driven from my small Indiana town clear out to Kansas, Oklahoma – 10 hours away from everything and everyone I knew. My parents signed me over to Cookson Hills and left. I hated them. I hated everyone that played a part in me going there.
Every time a new child arrives to join one of our houseparent families, they have a lifetime of experiences which are shaping their perspective, their choices, and their outlook on life. Most will arrive with a mixture of emotions which may include anger and hatred, like Brandi, or relief, apprehension, sadness or even excitement. However, whatever the emotions, we hope they experience the love that Brandi described in the next chapter of her story.
“I was placed with Steve and Sharon Myers. The Myers showed me unconditional love. They showed me the true meaning of a family. They showed me how Christians should act. During my time at Cookson Hills, I experienced so many different things. I got baptized. I had a family, and I finally had people I could call mom and dad and be proud of them. The rest of the staff was equally amazing. I received counseling for my hate towards my mom, which helped a lot. Over time, I was able to tell her how hurt I was and how I was having trouble processing it.
I may not be a person that everyone agrees with, but the people at Cookson Hills showed me the love that Christ shows us. My time at Cookson Hills is something I will be forever grateful for. Moreover, I am proud to say I am a successful adult and a good person.”
At Cookson Hills we often say, “It’s not fool-proof. It’s difficult. And, it’s worth it.” It was worth it for Brandi. Loving the kids God brings to Cookson Hills will always be worth it!