Every year, thousands of Texas teenagers leave the state’s foster care system, and are essentially thrust into an adult world and expected to survive. Often times the transition does not end well. That’s why THRU Project was created, to provide guidance, support and advocacy to foster youth (age 16 and over) transitioning to adulthood and independent living. The organization is dedicated to providing foster youth with resources and opportunities to achieve a purpose-driven life.
Here is one youth’s story.
My name is Jimmy Paul Cisneros, and I’m one of the youth advisors for the THRU Project. I’ve been part of the program for more than three years now, and the impact it has had on me can barely be put into words. But I’ll give it a try.
My history could have led me to plenty of roads, and none of them were positive. I’ve been an orphan since age 10 and am the youngest of four sibling, but both my brothers and my sister were murdered. I was placed into foster care.
Despite all this, my faith has always been my rock, my foundation. But I was still lost, and my confidence has always wavered. After graduating from UTSA with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in accounting, I had been looking for a job for some time when I met Elaine from THRU. Her husband would later turn out to be my advisor. He made an impression on me when he told me without even knowing my whole story or who I was that he was proud of me. He was someone I would want to emulate _ he has a nice car and house, etc. To hear that from him so early stood out to me.
For so long, I can remember not wanting to tell people my story for several reasons. One, it hurt, and I felt that it would never go away. Two: I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me. I thought my history was a negative thing in my life, but THRU has helped me turn that all around. Now, I proudly tell my story – the whole thing.
There are still things I deal with, but through this program, I know I’m going to work it out. THRU allows me to empower others, to help them see that it’s not your past that defines you – it’s how you respond to it. The feelings I had when I went through all this have made me who I am: a strong, confident, intelligent individual who understands that we all go through tough times in life and it’s just a matter of how we respond. These youth hear my story, and although I can’t say for sure, I think it’s worse than theirs. So they start to realize that there’s something I have that they don’t have yet – and that they want it.
I understand that I am not who people assume I am because I get to define myself. I’m not who my past defines me as because I have overcome it. It is a continuous fight to fully recover from what happened, but THRU has given me back my power, my self-esteem. When I speak to youth, the one thing I always try to make sure I get across to them is the power of believing in yourself – the belief and confidence that I can be who I set out to be if I just set my mind to it and work hard. There will be bumpy roads, times that don’t go my way, but as a result of going through what I’ve been through, I’m going to make it to the other side. No doubt.
My internal healing has just been night and day since I became a part of THRU, which allows me to start being who I was before all these things happened. My drive has always been what it is even before THRU, but my mind is more positive and healthy these days. It’s not always harping on what happened. I’m still a work in progress, but we all are.
I’ve been given the chance to try to help change others’ lives. I can sympathize with some or most of their feelings: feeling alone and having to take on the world by yourself. I feel like once you get that boost of self-confidence and you have even a small success, it can snowball into bigger ones. Hope is like a little seed that is planted. If it’s given enough water, hope can flourish into the most beautiful thing your eyes and mind can ever put together. The feeling after seeing that your seed is growing is unexplainable. It’s something that I have felt these last 3 years and continue to feel each day I do something with or hear something about THRU.
The impact that this program can have can’t always be measured in the money these youth make after graduating or the pictures of smiles you see after so many years of frowns. The impact starts within each individual youth and is carried through how they live their life after being in the program. The impact can be seen in the people they go on to touch. They will help turn a person’s life around. The impact isn’t measurable because someone’s self-worth can’t be measured. It’s shown.
THRU is a continuous circle of those having needed help sometime during their life now being able to help someone else through their hard times. We are empowering those who once felt powerless to see the power they hold inside themselves. I thank THRU and the people who work with THRU for giving me back my value in myself and in who I can become, despite the bad pages earlier in the book that is my life.
To learn more about THRU Project and how you can help or receive help, visit www.thruproject.org.
*Featured/top image: Jimmy Paul Cisneros hard at work as an advisor for the THRU Project. Courtesy photo.