Hurt but hopeful, 21-year-old Noel Ayana wants his words to create change for other forgotten children.
Standing next to his lawyer, Noel Anaya, 21, read a prepared statement at his final court hearing before aging out of California’s foster care system. Brett Myers | Youth Radio
Noel Anaya is a remarkable young man. He was only one when he and his five brothers and sisters were put into the California foster care system after being removed from an abusive home. The six siblings didn’t get to grow up together as a family; they were separated and shuffled between different foster homes and shelters, and in one case, prison. Today, Noel is 21 years old, the age when he’s officially “aged out of the system” and can no longer qualify for benefits. Having never found a forever family to adopt him, he’s now essentially on his own. And, not surprisingly, he did not make it through this sad and institutional experience unscathed emotionally.
Noel may be hurt, but he’s channeling those feelings into a determination to help other foster kids like him have a better experience. He’s in his junior year of college, and he’s committed to doing something that only between two and nine percent of kids in foster care ever achieve: earning his bachelor’s degree. He studies TV & radio production, and is actively promoting foster care awareness, citing his desire to work with the community to benefit kids like him.
In a unique move, Noel chose to read a letter he had written about his experiences in foster care at his last court hearing, in which his case would be essentially closed for good. Here’s an except of his powerful words, detailing his emotions and experiences over the last 20 years. Part of him was clearly angry, especially as he talks about the “gray hands” of the system.
“Your gray hands just taught me how to survive in a world. We never learned how to love ourselves unconditionally. I’ve been with multiple foster families. I’ve been with multiple shelters. How does a person like me not end up with a family?”
Noel, explaining some of the reasoning behind the words he chose for the speech:
“I used “gray hands” to describe the foster care system, because it never felt warm or human. It’s institutional—the opposite of the sort of unconditional love I imagined that parents show their kids.”
“Imagined.” How powerful that one word is. He never knew that kind of love that so many of us take for granted giving and receiving in our own lives. He goes on …
“In an ideal world, being a foster kid is supposed to be temporary. When it’s stable and appropriate, the preference is to reunite kids with their parents or family members. Adoption is the next best option. I used to dream of it. Having a mom and dad, siblings to play with, a dog. But when I hit twelve, I realized that I was getting old and adoption probably would never happen for me.”
“Realized that adoption would never happen for me.” It’s shattering to think of such a young child coming to grips with that reality … but clearly he had found the strength to reconcile it as an adult.
“As the judge read her final orders closing out my case, I promised myself that I would leave all the rage I felt about the foster care system inside the courtroom. That I wouldn’t carry all that hate and frustration with me for the rest of my life.
“I felt goosebumps when the gavel slapped down on my judge’s desk. Happy because I’m no longer cared for by a system that was never that good at actually caring for me. And I’m anxious, too, about what life might be like next.”
Read the rest of the speech, as well as more of Noel’s own commentary on the last day of his court proceedings here.
Heartbreaking and eye-opening all at once. An important message about a broken system, but perhaps some of us might also be guided to children like in need of love. While no one would wish this life on any child, it’s clear that Noel’s life, while hard and lacking in so many ways, still has an important purpose—he’s used his experienced for good, and perhaps his words will help and inspire others.
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