I came to Cookson Hills in 2009, when I was fifteen years old. I had a terrible home environment full of abuse, a broken relationship with my mom, and a long list of step-dads. I was very outspoken and knew what my interests and goals were but there was also a lot of hatred burning inside me. I was the kind of kid that was confident, but no one could tell me what to do.
When I first came to Cookson Hills I didn’t want to meet new people or be in a new place with a whole different routine. Quickly, things began to change for me. My houseparents, the Johnsons, were some of the most influential people in my journey at Cookson Hills. They helped me make changes that needed to happen in my life. I came from a home where I didn’t feel like there was any love at all, to a completely new group of people who surrounded me with love and acceptance. Each morning, my house dad would have devotions with us after breakfast. One time I remember he talked about focusing on the small things in the day to help you find the positives. I’ve kept that with me and even now, almost 10 years later, when I’m having a really terrible day I try to find the positives. At times I still struggle with the trauma I experienced in my childhood but trying to see those little positives really helps open my eyes.
The relationship I had with my house mom was also very transformational for me. I never had a healthy relationship with my birth mom and my stepdads were never good father figures. My house mom cared about my story and did things that would help me work through my past. She would make sure she gave each child in our home equal and personalized attention. There was an overwhelming amount of love in the Johnson’s home which helped me to relax and be at peace, not having to worry about all the things I did before. To this day I still have a relationship with my houseparents, we see and text each other often.
During my time at Cookson Hills, the people around me helped me find a relationship with God, leading me down a positive path. Being here made me much more confident and I learned I was capable of doing things I never thought possible. ‘Simple’ things like developing strong and healthy relationships are possible for me because of the counseling I went through here. Had I not come to Cookson Hills, I probably would have been sent to a military school or would have been involved with drugs and would likely be in jail. I don’t think I would have survived any of those situations! I also think I would still be a really angry person since I didn’t have a way to express my feelings. If I could tell my 15-year-old self anything, I’d say, “Calm down, everything will be okay. Be true to yourself and listen to the people around you. Don’t be so angry, just let it all go.”
After I graduated from high school my social worker helped me find a way to stay at Cookson Hills for the summer, so that I wouldn’t be homeless. They let me work, get food from the food store, rent out a place, and get things from the clothing store. It was a huge help!
Overall, coming to Cookson Hills was a freeing, positive experience. I still keep in contact with several people from that chapter of my life. They often let me know that they saw changes in me and that really means a lot. I had never had anyone encourage me like that before. I am thankful for the relationships that have transformed me into the person I am today.