“I never had a lot growing up,” says Tyisha, a 23-year old graduate of Center For Family Services Camden DREAMS program. “I craved independence and success, but knew I had to work hard to achieve them.” Tyisha’s life, like many of the children we serve in our residential programs, began in foster care. She lived in several foster homes as a baby and eventually was adopted. “A sweet older woman adopted me when I was just an infant,” says Tyisha. “Unfortunately, she became ill and unable to care for me. I ended up back in foster care until I aged out of the system.” She eventually found her way to Center For Family Services through a caring worker from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Youth and Family Services.
Tyisha was referred to CFS’ Camden City-based GrandSlam program, which provides structured transitional living assistance to homeless female youth with the primary goal of developing an independent living plan. “I wanted to learn how to clean and cook for myself. GrandSlam taught me that and more. It really prepared me for my next step which was moving into Camden DREAMS.”
Camden DREAMS, located just a down the block from GrandSlam, is a permanent supportive housing program for young adults. CFS was provided the critical funding to create this program in 2008 as part of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families' commitment to prioritizing resources for children aging out of the foster care system. Because of Camden DREAMS, these young adults now have a place to call home. The program offers wrap-around services to residents while they learn how set up a savings account, pay bills, and balance school and work all with the help of counselors and resident advisors.
During her three years at DREAMS, Tyisha set goals and with the help of CFS staff started to achieve them. “The staff at DREAMS encouraged me every day. They pushed me to work hard.” After graduating high school, Tyisha entered Prism Medical School where after one year she became a licensed medical assistant. “School was really really hard at first but I wanted to get through it. I was determined to get through it. I focused all of my energy on education because it knew it would prepare me for my future.”
Tyisha’s ultimate career goal was to work at Cooper University Hospital. With the unrelenting help and encouragement of the staff at DREAMS, she got her wish. “I wanted to go to work happy and I knew that meant working for Cooper.” The DREAMS Job Readiness Training (JRT) program helped prepare Tyisha for interviews by teaching her effective greeting techniques, cover letter and resume writing, and professional interview skills. “If it wasn’t for the staff at DREAMS, I wouldn’t have my job at Cooper. They helped set up an interview and prepared me for it too.” Tyisha is now a Clinical Medical Assistant in the Surgery Department at Cooper University Hospital.
After working her way through CFS’ residential programs, Tyisha longed for a place to call her own. “I have never lived by myself. I’m constantly surrounded by people so I rarely get peace and quiet,” says Tyisha. “Once I secured my job at Cooper, DREAMS staff started to encourage me to look at buying my own home. I never in my whole life thought I’d be buying house. A whole house all to myself!”
“I can’t wait to decorate and have friends over to my own place.”
Once again, with the help of DREAMS staff, Tyisha started the process of buying her own home. “If it wasn’t for Camden DREAMS I wouldn’t be buying my own home. I’d be sleeping on a friend’s couch somewhere with no education and no future.” On January 30, 2012, Tyisha made settlement and moved into a brand new condominium located in Camden City, just around the block from Cooper. “I can’t wait to decorate and have friends over to my own place.”
It’s only recently that Tyisha realized just how far she has come since becoming a client of Center For Family Services when she found a written activity she had saved from her time at GrandSlam. “The counselors asked us to write down our goals and dreams. I wrote down getting an education, working at Cooper, and owning my own home as part of my future goals. After I settle on my condo I will have reached each and every one of my dreams.”
So what’s next for this ambitious, spirited 23-year old? “I want to become more engaged in the community and the city of Camden. I was born in this city, I live in this city, and I work in this city. I’ve done so well because of the resources I’ve been provided with at Center For Family Services, it inspires me to give back.”