Kid's Quill: How I’ve Helped Others

October 1, 2001

These essays were written by teens in foster care for a scholarship contest that asked them to describe how they have helped others. The contest is sponsored by the Child Welfare Fund in New York City. (A book containing 100 winning essays from the first three years of the contest is available at

I’ve Become an Advocate for Teens in Care

Lishone Bowsky, 20

Green Chimneys Children’s Services

I must admit I wasn’t always a helpful child. I was so absorbed in surviving and in trying to help myself that the last thing on my childlike mind was helping someone else, especially when no one was helping me. But after a while I grew up and the older I got, the wiser I got.

I didn’t learn the value of helping others until people began to help me and expect nothing back but a mere “thank you.” I set out to help foster youth learn about their rights and to advocate for themselves. I joined an organization called “Voices of Youth,” which prepares current and former foster youth to train child welfare professionals through public speaking.

I became not only a public speaker, but an advocate for those young people who can’t speak up for themselves, are too scared or too young to speak for themselves, or who try to speak up but get shunned away.

Being an advocate for youth in care and working with “Voices of Youth” have made such an impact on me that I’m going to law school. But my hope is to eventually become a judge. I want to make a difference as far up as I can. My selfish ways are long gone and there’s a need deep inside me to help people, which I hope will be there for the rest of my life.

The Value of a Kind Gesture

Dorothy Andrews, 16

Inwood House

One day I went to visit my brother in the Bronx on Allerton Avenue. I was outside with my brother’s friends when I saw an old woman with a shopping cart. I asked her if she needed help. She said, “Yes, thank you.” So I helped her up the stairs. She lived on the fourth floor. I was four months pregnant, but I helped her anyway. She didn’t have an elevator.

While we were going upstairs, we were talking about her moving because the building looked dirty and broken down. We finally got to her door. She reached into her pocket to give me some money, but I said, “No, thank you.” She said, “Oh, you are a nice girl with respect. Someone raised you up with good manners.”

I said, “Thank you. My grandma did.”

Bringing a Smile to an Old Woman’s Face

Maria Korfiatis, 17

Lakeside Family and Children’s Services

I did volunteer work at a home. It helped me realize not all people are fortunate. Some of these people were sick, with no families. There was one woman in particular that I visited often. Rose was a sweet woman, well past 40, although she looked very young. She was an only child and had many hardships throughout her life.

Rose and I would spend endless hours talking, sometimes until 9 at night when visiting hours were over. She had no family except for an uncle who lived in California. Sometimes I would do crafts with some of the other people in the dining hall, and Rose would come downstairs. The nurses told me that she seldom came down for an activity, but I always brought out the child in people.

There was one woman, nearly 90, and she was funniest of all. One time we were all watching “Patch Adams,” and she let me borrow a clown nose she had put on. I went from room to room wearing it. The whole center was smiling. The nurses said it had been years since they had seen some of these people smile.

I Gave Up My Place

Anthony Santana, 18

St. Christopher’s

My two siblings and my nephew Brandon were placed together in a foster home, while I was placed in a group home in Tarrytown. I spent Christmas alone without my family, in fear of what was going on in their lives.

When I visited them on Brandon’s birthday, I wanted to cry: They were
so young to be living without any of their family. Later that month my aunt got custody of my two siblings and myself. However, my aunt didn’t have enough room for Brandon. I didn’t want him to grow up without family, so I told my lawyer to tell the judge I wanted Brandon to take my place and I’d stay in the group home. The judge agreed and told me it was a brave and unselfish thing to do. I get to see them every weekend and they are doing great together.

It wasn’t a hard choice to make. It was the right thing to do. I knew from experience how hard it is growing up without family. I was taken from my mother when I was about 5 or 6. I always told myself I’d never let it happen to my kids, and I was glad I could keep the promise to my brother, sister, and nephew.

Helping to End a Nightmare

Mayra Sierra, 14

Graham Windham

The first foster home that my agency put me in was in Manhattan. During the first week, everything went OK. Then the nightmare began. The foster mother began hitting the girls. She used to hit a foster child named Alicia because she wouldn’t clean after herself, or she would be in the bathroom too long. She’d pull Alicia by the hair into the hallway.

I felt very sorry for Alicia. She cried every night for her mother, who died from AIDS. In a way I understood what she was going through because I also missed my mom a lot. I wanted to help Alicia but I was scared.

Six months passed and the hitting didn’t stop. I decided to tell my social worker what was happening in the home. They went to talk to Alicia and the foster mother, but of course Alicia said the foster mother never hit her. Two months passed and Alicia told her social worker what the foster mother was doing. Now Alicia has moved to a nice home and she’s very happy. (I left, too.) She calls me almost every day and we talk.

I helped Alicia because she needed to be helped. She looks happier now. She wasn’t like that before.

Finding the Missing Piece

Vernon Taylor, 19

The Children’s Aid Society

I’ve heard that before you help others you must first help yourself, but sometimes by helping others you can help yourself and not even know it.

I’ve always done the things I had to do for myself. By 16 I graduated from high school a year early and started looking for a good college. I had everything most teens want, but something was still missing.

I got a phone call from someone in the agency, who asked me if I could talk to younger kids in independent living about how I achieved my goals and how they could achieve theirs. I said yes, but I remember sitting there saying to myself, “Maybe this time I bit off a little bit more than I can chew.”

On the day of my talk, I remember being extremely nervous and extremely confident. So I walk into this huge conference room and every chair is filled. And all eyes are on me.

I started off by telling the kids that at a certain point in life you can no longer blame the agency for your mistakes, or even your parents, but only yourself. Because in the real world, no one is going to care if you were in foster care or not. And it is up to you to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Mind you, I said “opportunity,” not “person.” You must grow up before your time. And I know quite well life is not fair, but your whole life does not have to be unfair. Life is what you make it: Focus on your goals before you do anything else in your life.

After I finished talking, it was like everyone there understood the message I was trying to get across. You could see that some of them looked at me and said, “If he’s in foster care and can do it, so can I.”

At that point my missing piece was found. Now, for the record, I don’t plan on becoming a social worker. But I do plan on continuing to talk to people inside the system and letting them know that they can conquer anything that’s in their path.

Articles to be considered for publication must have been previously published. Youths will be paid for work published on this page. Submit articles to: Al Desetta, Youth Communication, 224 W. 29th St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001. (914) 679-6314,

Bowsky, Lishone. "I’ve Become an Advocate for Teens in Care." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

Andrews, Dorothy. "The Value of a Kind Gesture." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

Korfiatis, Maria. "Bringing a Smile to an Old Woman’s Face." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

Santana, Anthony. "I Gave Up My Place." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

Sierra, Mayra. "Helping to End a Nightmare." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

Taylor, Vernon. "Finding the Missing Piece." Kid’s Quill. Youth Today, October 2001, p. 24.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.