With summer in full swing, and the 2016-2017 school year just behind us, we interviewed one of our graduating seniors concerning his accomplishments. Epi is known as a student who is reliable, hard-working, and willing to do what needs to be done. Like any other kid, he came to Cookson Hills with his own challenges, but we hope his story can be an encouragement to others.
When you arrived at Cookson Hills how did your self image affect your actions and how have you worked through that?
It was hard to have good self image due to foster care and moving around a lot. My self image was pretty low. It didn’t help having such high standards at home. My adoptive dad was a preacher and I felt like I could never live up to the standards that came with being a preacher’s kid. This cut me even lower.
Coming to Cookson Hills wasn’t easy the first few weeks either. I was in survival mode; I kept my head low and tried to fit in. Humor and energy became my defense mechanism; I was always cracking jokes and trying to bring a smile or laugh to someone’s face, even if it was self-deprecating.
Real growth happened through building relationships with my houseparents.Having a counselor who actually cared also played a huge part. Then my social worker challenged me to ‘make a change for myself’ and I took that personally. Gaining recognition for my efforts, hard work, and gaining the trust of my principal helped improve my self image.
In the school, you were recently voted “most respected” by your peers, and teachers think highly of you. How has your perspective of yourself changed during your time here?
My self confidence has grown. I learned how to harness my energy and put it towards something good, giving me a sense of responsibility that I didn’t have before. I learned from my mistakes, learned how to grow not only in my strengths, but through my limitations. I have also connected with Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:12-13;
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I have really lived that out; through being in foster care and not having, and then living here where I have love and people caring about me.
Now, you are graduating! Taking everything into account: your past, your experience here, and the growth you have gone through, how has your Cookson Hills experience prepared you to launch into adulthood?
I really see four different ways in which Cookson Hills has prepared me– responsibility, love, sacrifice, and community. I was put in leadership roles both in school and in my home even though I didn’t feel I was ready for it. At school, I quickly earned enough trust with the teachers to gain a student-worker position. At home, I became a leader by becoming an example for younger kids. Both of these experiences helped me mature and develop a good sense of responsibility. I also learned how to balance school, sports, work and family and still be productive.
Then there are my houseparents, who have taught me how to show love even in difficult circumstances. Despite the negative choices made by children in their homes, my houseparents were still willing to love! Having witnessed this agape love, I now understand that forgiveness is necessary to move forward. In fact, there have been times when I have responded with some of the same patience and willingness to forgive that these families have modeled. What’s more, now that I have experienced the positive outcome of that ‘love piece’ in relationships, the piece that sets a foundation for better relations with others, I want to pass that on.
Watching the rest of the staff has shown me the true meaning of sacrifice. People like our high school science teacher and our graphic designer have skill sets that qualify them for high paying jobs, but have instead chosen to sacrifice those opportunities in order to serve kids. Because of this example, I know that despite what the world says about money equaling success, I want to leave the legacy of changing someone’s life. That’s what was done for me and that’s what I want to do.
Finally, I have been able to form a network of people who I know I can rely on! Whether that be for a job reference, meeting basic needs, spiritual guidance, or just people who will look out for me. I am relieved, comforted, and feel a sense of security knowing I won’t have to face adulthood alone.