When teenagers think of turning 17, many probably think about getting their license, their first car and who they are taking to prom.
When Jacob Tucci looks back at being 17, he’s reminded of the year he entered the foster care system.
“It’s hard to think that I entered the foster care system so late,” Jacob says, “because there are other kids that enter the foster care system at such a young age, but I don’t think there’s a right time to have that happen.”
Entering the system is a hard enough experience, but for Jacob it came at a particularly trying time. Not only had he lost contact with his older sister who was always there for him but also he had recently lost his grandmother. “It was really hard because I thought my grandparents were more parents to me than my regular parents,” Jacob says.
Rather than letting the neglect and abuse of his past hold him back, Jacob used it as motivation to push himself to reach new levels of success. He took full advantage of the services offered to teens in foster care, such as the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program and the Summer Housing Internship Program (SHIP). While living in a group home, he sought out mentors who taught him valuable life skills that he never learned from his parents.
“Coming out of the foster care system can be hard because you don’t know who to talk to or who you can go to, but… there are a lot of mentors and a lot of people willing to help and help nurture a student,” he says.
With guidance from his mentors and the NJFC Scholars Program, Jacob decided he wanted to join the small percentage of foster children who obtain a college degree. Currently enrolled with Rutgers University in Camden, he’s pursuing a degree in theater. For Jacob, theater is not only a passion but also an escape. “I’ve always felt like I love to sing and dance and act,” he says, “It puts me in a place where I can just be myself.”
When Jacob isn’t studying or performing, he works at a local Starbucks, a job that he enjoys very much. “I love going to work,” he says, “because I like to put smiles on people’s faces.”
When he manages to find free time, Jacob is often in Rutgers’ piano room making others smile through the power of music. He uses this time to discover new musical patterns and to calm his mind from the rigors of the college workload.
With all that Jacob’s experienced, he maintains a positive outlook on life that’s evident as soon as you start talking to him.
“I was robbed of my childhood, which isn’t fair for anyone to have to go through” Jacob said. “But now I’m strong and I have all these people helping me…I feel like foster care really helped me transition into college.”
When he first entered the foster care system, he often had flashbacks to life at home that led to many sleepless nights.
“But I just know that I’m here now and I’m safe, there’s nothing going bad and I’ll make sure nothing goes bad. I have some of the memories that still haunt me, but you know I’m here and I’m in the present.”
It was Jacob’s willingness to strive and advice from his mentors that helped him move past his troubled childhood and mold him into an example for those in foster care to follow. He has a job that he loves and he’s on his way to earning a degree that he’s truly passionate about.
This Foster Success Spotlight was written using interview questions answered directly by Jacob Tucci.