From Survivor to Caretaker

| February 7, 2021 | 0 Comments

By Ginny Ollis

Caitlin is the oldest of three girls who did not know their fathers.  These men were absent because they had been murdered, were in prison or were just not around.  Which puts the question of life and death forefront in your life very early.

The absence was normal but not safe.  Mom was an alcoholic and mostly absent, and moved her three daughters around a lot, changing households, always living in shared spaces.  Caitlin was first molested at 7, and by 12 had been in eight schools in four states.  By the time she was 13, Mom was gone for weeks at a time, abandoning her girls in sketchy places.  Her little sisters, 10 and 5, were Caitlin’s responsibility.  At 13 Caitlin became a child prostitute.  Working El Cajon Boulevard, drinking, doing drugs, rape was normal to her. To her, her story was not unusual.  At 15 she was picked up by vice, taken to juvenile hall and became a ward of the court.  For 890 days, almost three years, she had no power over her life. 

But Caitlin didn’t collapse.  She grabbed the educational opportunities, read a great deal, earned her GED and started community college courses on line while in custody.  She was released to a group home in Los Angeles, but not ready to accept help, she ran away, and got hooked: cocaine, then crack, then a mixture of meth and heroin.  She lacked self-acceptance, didn’t know where she fit, but liked being free from restrictions, was proud of her survival. 

Her grandmother had taken her two younger sisters and then moved to Maryland.  By 2015 Caitlin was living between two shopping carts under a blue tarp with a needle in her arm every day.  She was numb.  Her life seemed over.  It didn’t matter.  Then in October 2016 she learned she was pregnant and had to find the power in herself to change.  That day she quit all drugs cold turkey, found a couch in a dope house, where, although she was no longer participating, she was welcomed because she cleaned and was useful. 

She met Roy, a wheelchair-bound Viet Nam Veteran on the street, who had severe PTSD/dementia, but was nice, and Caitlin was immediately attracted to someone for whom she could serve a purpose and help, and who was not a threat.  They began a mutually supportive friendship.  The V.A. had provided an empty apartment to Roy, no furniture, but a safe place.  He needed feeding, bathing, medications, and trustworthy companionship. 

Caitlin moved in and took over his care.  She took him on wheelchair walks, bringing them back into the clean outside world where they learned a new environment.  She worked with the V.A. to obtain a service I.D. at minimum wage.  She now had someone besides herself to take care of.  Soon after, she had suspicions and went to a clinic on El Cajon Boulevard that confirmed she was pregnant again.  They referred her to the Jacobs Center in La Jolla where, seven months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Tommi Marie, which Caitlin describes at the best thing that ever happened to her.  After her daughter was born, she became recognized for her exceptional care and purpose by the V.A. They upgraded their housing to a two bedroom unit, so that she and her daughter had their own room.

When Tommi was 2, Caitlin heard about Just In Time for Foster Youth on the radio and went to see them.  They gave Caitlin incredible support.  New furniture was delivered to the barren apartment that she and Ron had furnished with “finds.”

About three years ago (the older of Caitlin’s sisters) moved back to San Diego. 

Caitlin encouraged her sister to qualify for paid home care service by the V.A. They now divide the care of Ron into day/night shifts, and her sister has enrolled in nursing study at Grossmont College. She too is thriving. 

Today Caitlin’s well-earned confidence, articulate voice, and enormous personality and gratitude for her own achievements and blessings make her a standout in any environment.  She is a gift to know.  Her dream is to stay in school for as long as she can afford and paint murals across the city while continuing to advocate for foster youth and other marginalized people in her community.

She was given stipends to attend financial literacy workshops and gained tools needed to be independent and secure. She also learned about checking and savings accounts and how to invest.  Caitlin was encouraged to apply to San Diego State University where she was awarded a full tuition scholarship to the Fowler College of Business and is taking online classes.  She now shares her time for studies towards her degree, and Roy’s home care responsibilities. 

Most important to her, Just in Time for Foster Youth (JIT) has provided professional counseling, mental health resources and wellness services that have influenced her healing through group therapy, supportive mentorships, and fitness.  Caitlin is now an employee of JIT where she is the investor outreach coordinator and speaks to groups on behalf of the organization.  She also works with other foster youth who are entering their independent and adult years.

Just in Time for Foster Youth (JIT) provides a supportive community for youth exiting the foster care system to build the confidence, capability, and connection necessary for personal success. For transition age foster youth, 18 to 27 years of age, JIT creates a community of caring adults, long-term coaching relationships, and coordinated resources to address the root cause of trauma and empower youth to achieve self-sufficiency and wellbeing.  To learn more about these life-transforming services, visit www.jitfosteryouth.org.

Caitlin is shown with her daughter, Tommi.

Tags: ,

Category: feature, Local News, Nonprofit

About the Author ()