by Patricia Murret
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Jonathan Bell of Gaithersburg recently graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. He played varsity lacrosse and was drum line co-captain. The 19-year-old is headed to Montgomery College and talking to recruiters about joining the Marines.
But the path to a solid future has not come easy for Bell, who has lived in seven group homes and foster families since age 11.
“I’ve been through so much,” he said. “It’s been a tough time for me, being around people I didn’t know, being homesick and stuff.”
Bell moved into a Rockville apartment with a roommate this month. He joined the FutureBound Independent Living program run by the independent nonprofit National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, said Cynde R. Burgess, county child welfare supervisor. The program is a top choice for teenagers aging out of the child welfare system.
“This is not just a free-for-all, although some youth may see it as that,” said Burgess. “Some have been asked to step back from the program.”
The goal is for teenagers to develop skills they need to be successful working and living on their own.
“You’re never really prepared for independent living â€” it’s something you’re going to get used to,” said Raena Goodwill, 19, who was removed from her Montgomery Village home at 12. “If you’re in the system, you don’t really have a lot of support.”
Young adults in the FutureBound program have the support of physicians, therapists, case workers, job placement counselors and other staff who provide supervision and support. They help participants learn to manage money, take care of an apartment and develop job and education plans.
Goodwill, who goes to Montgomery College and wants to join AmeriCorps as a teacher after graduation, checks in daily with case managers and receives life skills training, she said.
Bell said he learned at an early age to be independent.
County officials took him, his sister and brother from their mother, who was a drug addict and alcoholic, when they were 11, 7 and 2, he said. They were sent to separate homes. At 13, a family friend told him his mother had died. He did not tell social workers for years, Bell said, describing his mother’s
death as the most difficult time of his life. He acted out for a long time, he said, then decided to work with the system.
These days, Bell is focused on work and school. His sister, now 15, has been adopted. A foster family is adopting his brother, who is 10 and has cerebral palsy.
At Whitman, students often asked Bell how he did it.
“I just tell them: I don’t put my problems on my back,” he said. “Because if I did, I couldn’t put it in my backpack. There’s a time and place for everything.”