As a star on the hit TV show "Dallas," Charlene Tilton was the sassy and beautiful Lucy Ewing. When the show ended, Tilton spent her time dedicated to causes that are near and dear to her heart, especially children in the foster care system, and helping raise awareness to couples and individuals -- in the straight and LGBT community, about the opportunities of opening hearts and homes to children through foster/adoption.
Many don’t know that Tilton had spent time in the foster care system as a child and has a unique perspective as someone who has experienced the fears and joys of being "in the system."
Tilton spoke to RaiseAChild.US about her childhood and being an advocate.
ERIC CRISWELL: When did you enter the foster care system?
CHARLENE TILTON: My mother had a history of mental illness and when I was 5 years old, she was institutionalized and I was moved around from various relatives and foster homes until I was 8 years old. Being moved around from home to home was not great. Everything I owned was in a little plastic bag and the worst part was that no matter where I was, I knew I wasn’t really wanted. That was the hardest part. But there are good things that came out of it, I became very imaginative and I think it really spawned my creativity.
ERIC: Were you able to express your creativity?
CHARLENE: One of my earliest memories was watching the Leslie Ann Warren “Cinderella” on TV and thinking it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It was magical and I wanted to be part of that magic as well. Later, “The Brady Bunch” changed my perspective on the world. I could become part of this family that was in a clean house, with a mother that wasn’t battling with issues, and I decided that I wanted to be an actress and tell these wonderful stories.
ERIC: How would you sum up your childhood?
CHARLENE: My childhood was tough but I was very hopeful. I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to do. Even though the places where I was living weren’t too supportive, I found myself walking to the local theater and offered to help clean just so I could be around this special place. The theater people were very kind and gave me free acting lessons, which turned into bit parts in a few productions. It really saved me and confirmed the belief that by having a goal and a dream to focus on, no matter what age, is 90 percent of the battle to survive. Life will do everything it can to knock it out of you, but that is how we all learn to be strong.
One of the best gifts I have is a sense of humor and I don’t tend to be angry or hold grudges. I have always believed in hope and think it is the most important thing that kids in the foster care system need.
ERIC: How much did being in the foster care system mold who you are now?
CHARLENE: I think that if a child is brought up not feeling like they are wanted, obviously it is going to affect them in some way. It’s not like people were saying, “Oh, look at this cute adorable little blond hair girl running around.” There was always a feeling of not belonging, yet yearning to be wanted. I was talking to a couple from my church who was interested in foster/adopt and worried about not being able to give the child a lot of material things, but I was able to relay to them that the only thing that child really needed was a sense of belonging and knowing they were loved and wanted. Today they have two beautiful children and an amazingly loving home. Especially teenagers, they are yearning and looking for that acceptance just like anyone else.
ERIC: What advice would you give those interested in foster/adoption?
CHARLENE: Don’t do it because you feel a need or to fill some void in your life, but rather do it because you have an abundance of love to give to a child. Make sure you have the willingness to invest the time to be there for your child. It breaks my heart that there are so many children in need right now, and their lives can be changed forever by those who are willing to give them a chance.
Currently Tilton is living in Nashville to be near her daughter and is preparing for her upcoming Tammy Faye Baker project in 2016.
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 400,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the next step to parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US.