Hi. I’m Sidney. I’ve learned a lot in my 18 years of life on earth. But one of the most valuable bits of knowledge that I can share with you is this: There is always a chance to start over, no matter who you are or what you’ve gone through in your life. Life will never be easy, but everything in life IS possible. If you take advantage of the opportunities that God offers you, you can do anything.
I’m sure it’s hard to navigate life when you’re in your twenties, thirties, or even forties. To try and find where you fit in this world. So, imagine being ten years old and never knowing where your parents are or when they will be back home. On the days when your parents are home, you wish they would just leave.
Now, imagine being ten and not only having to care for yourself but having to take care of two younger human beings who whine and complain, wanting their parents all the time. Who yell at you and claim they hate you even though you’re trying your best in an unwanted circumstance. You’re constantly homeless, never knowing where you’re going to be when the sun rises.
No child should have to go through those things. Unfortunately, that was my life.
From as far back as I can remember, my parents were addicts. As a result, we never had the money for the essentials; food, rent, bills, etc. My sisters and I were constantly homeless and hungry. But as far as I’m aware, I was the only one tired of the way we were living. It was becoming unbearable for me. I left my family at 13, only to go from home to home, staying with friends, and often I found myself in worse circumstances than before. It was an endless cycle of homelessness, drug abuse, and couch surfing.
I loved school though. It was a way for me to get out of my broken world.
I was able to stay super focused on getting work done and didn’t have to take care of my sisters or parents. All I had to worry about was me, and there was a library! Reading helped grow my mind- which taught me that many successful people go to college, so college became my goal.
But by the time I was sixteen, I was sick of the life I had and wished I could put an end to all the pain.
Then around the age of sixteen, I hit a stroke of luck. My boyfriend knew the condition of my situation and told his mother, Lacy, what I was going through. She was incredible and I don’t know what I would have done without her help. Unfortunately, the problems didn’t stop when I met her as I hoped they would. Having gone through all my past struggles and not dealing with them properly, I isolated myself, becoming very depressed and suicidal. Lacy hated to see me go through all this pain I was causing myself, and eventually, I ended up in a facility to help my mental health.
I am thankful I went to the facility. It really helped me deal with the tough things. Although I felt lost, alone and unloved, in time, I began to use the opportunity to my advantage. I took the advice they gave me and applied it. Little by little, every day, I began to feel like a new person. And the leaders there saw it too and encouraged me. It made me feel like I was doing something right for once. It made me feel like life didn’t have a hold on me, but maybe, for a moment, I had a hold on life.
I spent a month at the facility, and although Lacy was still my guardian, legally, I could no longer live with her. Together, we did tons of research for places I could live. We found shelters, group homes and even considered emancipation. Until one day, God showed us Cookson Hills.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure about Cookson. It seemed too good to be true. I had no other options at the time, though, so it was all I could do. It was hard. I didn’t know anyone, so I felt just as lost, scared, and alone as I had before. I wanted to look at this place as a new opportunity, but how could I when I felt like it was taking me away from the family I always wanted?
I struggled with how to handle being here. I asked myself, “Do I want to connect with these people or just do what I need to do so I can leave and be with Lacy?” Cookson Hills had many amazing opportunities for me, but I missed my life outside of here so much.
Over time, I made friends, learned new things, and began to feel at home. I had never had a real home before Lacy, and now, I had two. I felt wanted. The people here were caring and showed me what it was like to be loved and have people genuinely care for me and my needs. I had the resources to succeed, and I was able to have the opportunity to be a kid for once.
I really loved school! In my first year, I played the clarinet and drums in the band, became a staff member in the yearbook class, and I was the volleyball/basketball manager! Plus, I made some pretty great friends like Jonny, Kya, and Micah! In fact, I wrote in my journal at that time,
“I’m kinda lovin’ everything right now, and I am going to keep praying so that hopefully everything continues to get better! Now that I have banned myself from the mindset of leaving Cookson, and I actually look at it as an opportunity, I feel like I’m already a bit of a better person! I can’t wait to see what the rest of my future has in store!!”
My experience flourished as I began to learn how to balance relationships, family, friends, and school work. I started asking for help when I needed it. The small class sizes made me feel more connected to my teachers and the other students. I began to feel confident in asking questions. I felt cared for and supported. There was comfort in knowing I could have bad days, and I would still be loved.
I have grown so much at Cookson. Not just with relationships, school, and even in counseling, but in my relationship with God! Just seeing the things he does in the lives of others is amazing! Not only that, but people have shown me that God is doing things in my life too! Dad Henson, Mr. Curry, Mr. Tinkler, and so many others have shown me just how amazing God is and that I can grow through Him! So, I asked Dad Henson to baptize me! It was the most amazing experience ever, and all my family was there to see it! It was one of the best days ever!
Now that I’m a senior and looking back on my time at Cookson Hills, I am encouraged by the experiences and growth that prove I have been given a second chance. I went on my first ever family vacation to Disney World and experienced a childhood dream come true. I received the Charger Award at school (one of the highest honors given to a student here). Getting that made me feel really good. Although I’m still dealing with things, it made me feel like I’m doing something right. It showed me that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay as long as you keep pushing forward. It also helped me see that even though I had struggled – the community of Cookson Hills believed in me.
The connections that I have made while I’ve been at Cookson Hills have been so valuable. I have had so many more opportunities than I thought possible. I am grateful that I now have the chance to start telling my story. And I am thankful God gave me the opportunity for a chance to start over.
I am now attending college at NSU and majoring in Media Studies and Theater. I hope to continue growing as a person and in my relationship with God. I aspire to write a book of my life to help others who have been through similar situations. I also want to keep in touch with my Cookson Hills family and eventually come back and serve Cookson Hills as much as possible to help make an impact like one was made on me.
To be at Cookson Hills is to be a part of something special. I hope any kid who comes here will see it as a safe haven. A place where you have amazing opportunities. Students here are able to connect in a different way. Everyone has been through something, so giving and receiving support is easier. I’m sure you will never find another place where every single adult is in your corner and wants the best for you.
Cookson Hills has made a tremendous impact on my life, and although my time here is ending, it’s just the beginning of my story. It’s so exciting! This is only the beginning of all the amazing things that I am going to be able to do, and I am thankful. Thank you to everyone who has put effort, time, and love into Cookson Hills. Your contributions and everything you do help make this world a better place!