Whether it’s something trivial like tying a shoe or something major like choosing a college, most children have their parents to turn to whenever they need help. However, for kids in foster care, that parental support is often not there. In the case of Sophia Orama, a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, she had to be the one providing support.
With an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, Orama was forced to become the caretaker of the household. “I stayed with her [my mother] for many years because I was the one that was taking care of her,” Orama said. “It wasn’t until the time that I was 16 and I was a junior in high school and I was like, ‘I got to start thinking about myself,’ because college was coming up.”
It was with her future in mind that Orama started living with her aunt. At first, things were going well and she experienced peace and freedom that she never known while living with her mother. However, as time went on, there was a drastic change in her aunt’s behavior. “The emotional abuse she put me through has caused me to forget a huge portion of my time as a 17-year-old,” she said.
Her aunt’s hostility toward her continued to grow to the point that she kicked Orama out of her house. While she is glad that she no longer lives with her aunt, Orama believes everything in her life has happened for a reason and has made her a stronger person. Even with no one left in her family to turn to, it didn’t mean she was alone. Her high school biology teacher was more than willing to welcome Orama into her home. While living with her new foster family, Orama experienced a calmness so foreign to her that she wasn’t sure how to act. “I constantly asked if I could do casual things such as eating certain foods, taking a shower or even watching TV, as they were things I had to ask for in the past,” she said.
Having found stability in her life with her new foster parents, Orama was able to focus on going to college, something no one in her family had ever done. “It was a very daunting time because I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to apply to colleges or how to get scholarships,” she said.
When she realized she was going to need help, Orama reached out to her caseworker who told her about Foster and Adoptive Family Services’ (FAFS) New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program. Becoming an NJFC Scholar ended her self-doubt and squashed her fear of not being able to further her education. “I was like, ‘what if I don’t end up going to college,’ I based my whole life on my one goal of going to college and what if I can’t,” Orama said. “But this program definitely helped me push myself to say, ‘No, no I’m going to college.’… It continues to pay. It continues to pay because I know I have a group of people that care about me going to college.”
Orama is pursuing her Bachelors of Fine Arts in animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She plans to intern with one of the major animation studios with the goal of one day opening her own.
She has had a passion for art since she was a little kid and was drawn to artists’ ability to create fascinating things that don’t exist in the real world. Orama hopes that she can eventually help others work their way past challenging times through art – much like she was able to do.
Going to MICA is a major milestone in her life and something she wasn’t sure would ever happen. “When I got there I thought to myself, ‘You finally did it,’ because I’ve gone through many different phases of my life and at one point I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to live past my high school years,” she said. “But that fact that I actually made it to college and I was able to bring myself to do it… everything was just such a big rollercoaster for me.”
Orama credits her support group, which includes close friends, college roommates and her foster parents, for helping her get to where she is today. The support doesn’t end there as she also receives encouragement from her father and his family, as well as from her mother.
Orama considers it a bonus in her life that she is able to have a good relationship with her mother and that she is recovering. “My mother is someone that I will always be close to no matter what the circumstance,” she said. “Regardless of the things we have experienced together, we both grew.”
Even with having a great support network behind her, being an NJFC Scholar and achieving her goal of going to college, Orama admits her past still leaves her feeling vulnerable – even when everything seems good.
When you’re a child that has experienced abuse, emotionally or physically, and then you go from one period to the next and that next period is a lot better, you start to wonder when things are going to go wrong again and you start to wonder who’s going to leave me and who’s going to stay,” she said. “You don’t even know that you’re thinking that and then it starts a bunch of different problems, like you start to wonder why you aren’t satisfied or like why things aren’t happening the way you want them to, and it’s not just something that is wrong with you… I definitely experienced that a lot myself, but now that I know it’s there, it’s easier for me to push it to the side and say, ‘things are okay and they are okay and that’s it.’ Like nothing is supposed to be bad or nothing is supposed to be amazing, but things are okay, so it’s fine, it’s ok. And I’ve gotten way better at that, but the first few months of going to college it was really difficult.
It is clear when talking to Orama that while there are times when doubt tries to creep into her thoughts, she will not let anything stop her from achieving her dream of being an animator. Even with all of the adversity she’s faced, this NJFC Scholar continues to be a voice of positivity for other youth in care. “One thing I have to say is not to give up because even though it seems like everything isn’t going to work out and nothing is happening the way that you think it’s supposed to be happening. if you just keep at it, things will start to go your way. And then you’ll feel a little better, and once you feel a little better, you can accomplish more.”
This Foster Success Spotlight was written using interview questions answered directly by Sophia Orama.