Youth Villages stories
Valaquez: the tools to overcome any obstacle
If you had to sum him up in one word, you’d say that Valaquez is confident. It’s obvious in the way that he talks, the way he saunters into a room, and even in how he processes his difficult past. He’s proven to himself that he has the power and tools to overcome any obstacle; he’s very aware of the fact that this foundation will help sustain him in the future – no matter what comes his way.
Tell us about your experience before foster care.
Growing up, my mom did not properly take care of [me and my four younger siblings]. We had to stand for ourselves; we were homeless, living out of hotels. The only thing we had to eat were snacks we stole out of vending machines.
As I got older, I realized that I didn’t cause any of this; but at the time, when I was still a child, I blamed myself for the way that we were living … I struggled with depression but had no one to talk to. Not only were we homeless, but my mom was [using drugs] and would frequently leave, so I had to take care of my siblings on my own.
Just before I turned 12, I was put in foster care.
When did you start working with Youth Villages?
I was about to turn 18 and talking with my caseworker, she introduced me to Youth Villages. I had never heard of the program but knew that I needed help, so I gave it shot. Once I started working with my LifeSet specialist, Michael, it was really cool. We always talked about my mental health and practical things I needed to be doing to pass [high] school and get into college. He helped me get my life together!
What’s your relationship like with your specialist, Michael? How has he supported you?
I found out that Michael was really cool when I first met him! I didn’t know what I would have to do in the program … I had been in other programs before that didn’t explain anything to me. But Michael took the time to explain everything to me and encouraged me to let him know if I ever needed to talk about something or how he could support me … He was always consistent about talking to me about my goals, and encouraging me to take the proper steps to actually go do it. He’d always tell me, “you can talk about what you want to do, but actually taking the steps to go do it is another thing.” He helped me put my plans [into] action.
Michael really helped me keep my mental health in check … He helped me find coping mechanisms and better understand triggers that can make me feel depressed. Michael helped me to see that I can accomplish so much and be independent. He also supported me with basic stuff, like getting back and forth between school and [work]. Because public transportation is so expensive, he would often drive to pick me up and drop me off, which made my transition between places a lot easier.
Where are you now? Where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years?
I see myself modeling and designing beautiful gowns and garments for people. I actually just booked my first fashion show in October out in California!
I see fashion as art. [Clothes] are different art pieces that every person puts together on a daily basis. Clothes play a big part in everyday life – the suit you wear to an interview or a professional appointment, or the dress you put on when you go out to eat, or the t-shirt you go to a birthday party in … fashion is seen in so many aspects of life and can express so many different things. I love fashion! I’m always going to be invested in fashion because I know it makes people happy and confident, no matter the [occasion].
Thinking through your own experiences, and the experiences of your peers, why do you think Youth Villages’ work is so important?
I think Youth Villages’ work is really important because there are so many kids who need someone to talk to and need a lot of support. Youth Villages has so much experience in this field and knows what [they’re] doing. Youth Villages helps kids get things done and be who they were meant to be … Experience has taught a lot of foster kids like me not to expect help from people … They don’t think they can get any real kind of help from [others]. So when Youth Villages comes and shows them that there is help for them – that Youth Villages genuinely cares about our futures and is willing to put in the work [alongside] us – it makes a world of difference.