Growing up I did not have a strong mother figure. I was left so many times by my birth mom and she was never fully there mentally. Between prison and drugs, my mom spent very little time with me. When she stopped calling me altogether I took that really hard. I felt I could not be loved and my self-esteem was gone. I had a stepmom but she was always busy and didn’t really have time for me.
My name is Grace and I am 14 years old and in the 9th grade. I am the sixth born of ten siblings. I have one stepsister and the rest are all half-siblings. Most of us may be related by blood but we didn’t all live together in the same house so they have never really felt like family.
When I was in 6th grade, both of my parents were in prison. My grandma had died and my grandpa was raising me. My step-grandma brought him and me to church. I had a good relationship with God until my grandpa passed away a few years ago. After he died was when things got bad. I became a negative person, started looking to boys for attention, and I didn’t care about my grades.
I was in a very dark place spiritually. Although I was still going to church, my group of friends tore me from God and I had lost that feeling of connection to Him. At the worst, I was making terrible decisions and hanging out with the wrong types of people. It got to the point where if something didn’t change, I’m sure I would have ended up pregnant or on drugs.
By this time I was living with my dad and he wanted to find a place to get me back on the right track. He was looking for a family-centered place that was genuine and had house living instead of a dorm or cottage. My dad prayed hard to find the perfect place and he found Cookson Hills.
Before coming to Cookson Hills, I was apprehensive. I didn’t think I was going to be accepted. But once I got here, I felt loved and welcomed. Right away I felt like I belonged. In the interview stage, I met Grandma Wilkinson and her dog, Ben Ben. She came right over and talked to me while Ben Ben showed off. In the office, while I was waiting to be introduced to my new family, the lady at the front desk, Janet, was super hospitable. She even asked if I needed water. At the school, Mrs. Green was very sweet and comforting. It was like this all around campus. I felt so loved.
My houseparents were very warm and welcoming, they gave me space to let me get acclimated. The first night they cooked my favorite meal and when we went to town one night for dinner, they let me pick where to eat. We went to sonic. I was glad I got to choose to be at Cookson Hills, it didn’t feel forced at all.
Being the new kid was surprisingly cool. All of these awesome people were coming to me asking me questions about myself and offering advice on how to thrive here. I have loved being in this positive, God-centered environment. The students are all different and unique and the staff all works together to really show kindness and bring about more peace. Promises are kept here. There are no empty promises.
Cookson Hills has a positive and encouraging environment which has helped me form a foundation to build my faith. The adults are aware and helpful when I’m upset and I appreciate them taking the time to listen. I can tell everyone on staff really loves Jesus and it shows that they want to help me thrive. Being at Cookson Hills has allowed me to be surrounded by Godly people with whom I can ask questions, and I feel comfortable asking those tough questions. It really feels natural here.
I feel very comfortable at home, and I see my family here as my family. I have developed a strong relationship with my houseparents. They have taught me how to better communicate with my biological parents. They show endless grace and compassion towards me, and I love them so much.
My housemom has had the biggest impact on me during my time here. She taught me how to have confidence and love myself because God created me individually. My housemom exerts so much confidence and I want to be like her when I grow up. She taught me what a strong Christian woman looks like. In God’s eyes, I’m perfect as I am. My house mom has helped me see she has time for me. She’ll make time for me if I need to talk. I appreciated her care.
One time when I was upset, my house-sister told me, “You have to make the best out of what you have while you are here. Because who you have here is your everything for now.” When she said that, God opened my eyes at that moment and something really clicked for me. It really hit me that these people love me no matter what and I started to really appreciate what everyone here was doing for me.
Before this moment, I knew they cared but I didn’t think they cared about me individually. Ms. Taylor serves in the dining hall and she is always so nice to me. It really made me realize the people that work at Cookson Hills don’t have to work here. They CHOSE to work here because they love kids. And they choose every day to serve me. I had never felt so loved before this moment.
It also made me think, “If everybody is in your business, make your business good.” For instance, I would think to myself, “What if Ms. Lauren saw this? Would she be proud?” It totally changed the way I thought about my actions. It also opened my eyes to how hard my dad worked and it gave me a new appreciation for all he had done for me.
There was also one time that a younger student who hadn’t been here very long told me how I had really impacted her. Just seeing me lit up her day. I may not be having the best day but I can still help others. I also discovered something about life; It doesn’t get easier but it does get better.
Since coming to Cookson Hills I am a totally different person spiritually. My self-esteem skyrocketed and I suddenly felt like I mattered. I can even see how my change has impacted others. For example, my houseparents said that I helped their home, saying I filled the empty space. I’ve learned to have more respect for people because everyone has a story. I became aware of others and their emotions and needs and I have become more empathetic. I’ve also stopped looking on the surface because you just don’t know what people are going through so we all really need to be kind all the time.
The school has helped me because this school is so much better than public school. The class sizes are so much smaller, and there are no clicks. My teachers have taught me how to take pride in my work. I love that all the teachers here are encouraging and show that they care. This encouragement toward success has brought about a desire for me to set goals and work to achieve them. One of the smaller goals I have is to make sure I have student lounge privileges. It’s good to have something to work toward each day. When I finish my work I can go have fun in the lounge.
In the future, I want to go to college and get my undergraduate degree in psychology. Then attend law school to eventually become a litigator for corporate law. If the opportunity were to arise, I would love to work in a place like Cookson Hills.
Because of Cookson Hills, I have learned it is okay to let people go. Not everyone is good for me. I have also learned that God’s love is boundless and abundant. No boy could fill that in my heart. My houseparents share everything they have with us. They have taught me I don’t need material things. I don’t need boys or substances. The love of God satisfies and fills that void. His love is True, Full, and Real.