by Mike W. Thomas
ne evening Claresse Cooper, a young woman formerly in foster care, was making her way back to a San Antonio hotel where she was temporarily staying. She made a fateful call for a ride from a mobile app ride-share service.
The driver who picked her up that evening, Brenda Tollett, was concerned as to why an 18-year-old youth was staying by herself at a hotel and she started asking questions. Claresse told “Mrs. Tollett” that she had recently aged out of foster care and was struggling with what to do next. She had no family, no home and no one to give her direction on her next steps in life.
Something about Claresse spoke to Mrs. Tollett and she could see that she was in need. Perhaps it was fate or her mother’s intuition but, she promised to get Claresse the assistance she needed. Mrs. Tollett had experience with foster youth through her daughter, who served as a foster parent, and she also happened to be familiar with the programs offered by BCFS Health and Human Services.
Unwilling to let the chance encounter end, Mrs. Tollett exchanged contact information with Claresse and the next day, she brought Claresse to the BCFS Health and Human Services Community Services Division Headquarters, where they have the Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) center.
PAL is a program that specializes in helping youth who are aging out of the foster care system. Things were starting to look up!
At PAL, Claresse was assigned a case manager, Drew Melton, who worked to secure stable housing for her through an apartment assistance program run by Haven for Hope called Thrive.
“By the grace of God, Claresse got Mrs. Tollett as her driver that evening because she did not have a support system otherwise,” Melton said.
In addition to her struggles as a child in foster care, Claresse is also a victim of domestic violence and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression.
However, despite these challenges she continues to prevail.
Recently, Claresse went to the State Capitol in Austin for Youth in Action Day along with other current and former foster youth and staff from BCFS Health and Human Services’ programs. There she was able to speak with state representatives and ask questions regarding foster care. She told lawmakers about her struggles while she was in care and what she has struggled with since she has aged out of care. She also lobbied for legislation that could potentially affect the benefits of current and former foster youth.
Today, Claresse is committed to completing her education and going to college.
With the support of her case manager, she will not give up. She enrolled herself in school and has attended on and off for the past couple of years. Thanks to her persistence and determination, she made sure and attended all of the classes that she needed. Finally, as a result of her hard work and vigorous studying, she was able to walk the stage and receive her high school diploma in May 2019.
Claresse is currently enrolled in college in San Antonio and Melton said he is positive she will complete this goal as well.