When engaged with the child welfare system, one tends to focus on the negative – the drug-addicted mother, the negligent parent or the unexpected family tragedy that often sends children into foster care. Despite the difficult emotions that come with these situations, it must be remembered that the foster care system is intended as a place of hope, opportunity and growth for these young lives. This quarter, the Foster Success Spotlight falls on Cleo Bell.
A freshman at Chestnut Hill College, Cleo stands as a shining example of success in the wake of tragedy.
Her biological mother passed an addiction to crack cocaine to newborn Cleo, who was hospitalized for the first eight weeks of her life as a result. Thanks to Cleo’s maternal grandmother, her eventual adoptive mother, June, was informed of Cleo’s birth and circumstances. June jumped at this opportunity to care for Cleo.
“I came home with June, one older brother and 2 older sisters (who were also adopted). I was a whopping 14 lbs.,” writes Cleo. “On October 5th, the following year I was adopted.”
Despite her rough start, Cleo’s adoption was the first of many great things in her life. Her academic path has allowed her to attend Chestnut Hill College as a Communications major, where she’s currently maintaining a 4.0 average. But for Cleo, success is more than just good grades – she also served on her high school’s varsity cheerleading squad. “Group memberships are important. They will teach you team building skills, leadership, personal responsibility and how to work through adversity.” she says.
But for Cleo, such lessons don’t only come from outside the home.
“My mom is my role model. She is my biggest supporter and cheerleader,” Cleo says. “…The best life lessons have come from her. I never miss a day without telling her how much I love her.”
It is unsurprising that June Bell’s own compassion would be so clearly transmitted to Cleo – this year, Cleo won the Foster and Adoptive Family Services President’s Award for a true act of compassion. She befriended a local homeless man, Bobby, helping him to find permanent housing.
“I helped Bobby purchase groceries and keep his apartment tidy, checking in on him on weekends and holidays,” she said. “We forged a beautiful relationship and I learned so much about my capacity to serve unconditionally, and about the power of the human spirit.”
After his passing, she spoke at his memorial service.
It is clear that despite the troubled circumstances surrounding her birth, Cleo Bell has been able to succeed in the face of adversity. She strives for excellence in everything she does.
“Choosing to excel and exceed is definitely not an easy path, but certainly one of the most rewarding,” Cleo said. “Settling is not an option, and striving to always go the extra mile is a part of my mindset.”
Ever deserving of this Foster Success Spotlight, She approaches service to others with this same dedication and ambition.
“Giving back to my community has taught me many things and has unquestionably propelled me to want to do more,” she said.
Individuals such as Cleo Bell are the reason that foster care exists – so there will be positive outcomes for children who might otherwise never get the chance. With the strength and compassion of caring foster parents like June Bell, talented, creative, determined youth like Cleo can serve as a legacy to future generations.
“Accept challenges with confidence, be totally committed and take pride in everything you do,” she said. “Expanding your views will teach you to consider multiple options when making decisions and weighing issues of morality and ethics. Surround yourself with positive people that continue life lessons that will further fuel your motivation.”
With a message like this, Cleo Bell is sure to be heard.
This Foster Success Spotlight was written using interview questions answered directly by Cleo Bell.