It used to be hard to get Otis to smile. His life experiences have been anything but easy. Now, at age 19, there are a few things that make him grin, like when he talks about writing or his mentor Danny or his future.
One of Otis’s earliest memories was waiting in the hospital, where he was living since he was two years old, and wondering if his parents were ever going to come back to take him home. They didn’t. Born with cerebral palsy, Otis remained in the hospital until he was six years old. It was at that time that NAC received his case and immediately found a nurturing foster family to take him home.
A new family brings new challenges
At first Otis didn’t want to live with his foster parents. They were not his real parents. It took a lot of adjusting for Otis to trust his new family and for him to feel comfortable in a home with new rules and new siblings. His foster family adopted him, but Otis still struggled with depression, anger and behavioral issues. He didn’t like that he had to share with his younger brother or that his father took away his video games when he was disrespectful to his mother. Through the pre- and post-adoption periods, NAC’s PLAN program worked closely with the family – providing intensive therapy to help Otis and his parents communicate better and understand the frustrations each were feeling. Otis slowly realized that his parents were tough on him because they loved him and wanted him to succeed. His father encouraged him to do better in school and spent hours helping him learn to write. Otis’ disability had weakened his hands and it was often difficult for him to finish his homework and keep up with his schoolwork like the other children. When Otis brought home B’s on his report card, his father told everyone in the household how proud he was to have such a smart son.
Then suddenly, just when everything was going right in Otis’s life, his father died of a heart attack. Although he had the support of his mother and brother, Otis felt abandoned once again. His mother was now a single parent who struggled to financially provide for her family and care for two young children.
Hope for the future
NAC intervened by helping the family with basic needs and benefits. Otis continued to receive intensive therapy. He and his brother participated in therapeutic groups and recreational outings at NAC, which gave them opportunities to go to the theatre, sporting events, museums, and amusement parks. In high school, Otis expressed little interest in his school work. Then he joined two groups at NAC – each of which impacted Otis’s life for the better.
In the Starlight Poetry Group at NAC, Otis discovered his love of writing and how much easier it was to express his feelings through the poems and short stories he wrote in the group. His confidence was boosted after seeing his work published in the group’s anthology “Recipes for the Future” and giving a public reading of his poetry for NAC staff and friends. He also joined NAC’s AdoptMent mentoring program, where adults who were adopted serve as mentors for adopted teens. Otis was paired with Danny, a director at a video advertising network. Danny’s influence and friendship encouraged Otis to pursue his dreams.
Otis is now a freshman at Medgar Evers College. He is a published writer and regularly contributes to Represent, a national magazine for youth in foster care. Otis has written articles about his relationship with Danny, his struggles as a child and teenager, his family, and his disability. Through his writing, Otis has discovered an inner strength and confidence that he hopes will serve to encourage and enlighten other teens in foster care.
Otis on his mentor Danny
Otis with his mentor