“This will be the second, good Christmas of my life,” says 19 year-old foster youth Monique Ponce. On this Christmas Day, RaiseAChild.US Founder and C.E.O., Rich Valenza shares a conversation with Monique in today’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family®” series installment.
As I sit and share Christmas dinner with my family and friends, my thoughts will also include Monique, an impressive young woman that seems wise beyond her years. I met Monique Ponce at a recent RaiseAChild.US event in the City of Lancaster in California’s High Desert about an hour north of Los Angeles. She agreed to participate in the event as a panelist. When she spoke, she held the attention of everyone in the room.
RICH VALENZA: This opportunity to speak to prospective foster and adoptive parents is important to you. What is it that you hope to communicate to them?
MONIQUE PONCE: Honestly, I feel there is not a lot of foster homes that are up to taking in teenagers. I know because there was a lot of foster parents who turned me down without meeting me, because of my age. As I was turning 15, I went back into foster care and a number of foster parents did not want to take me because I was a teenager. I guess many parents just assume that all teenagers are just going to be the same -- troublemakers. So the reason I chose to speak is because I hope I can help open more doors for teenagers in the foster system, especially if they’re part of the LGBT community.
My last foster home, I was with them for about a year and a half and they were a lesbian couple too. They actually spoke at one of the RaiseAChild events that you guys had a while back.
RICH: Oh really?
MONIQUE: Yeah, they did. When I told them that I was going to speak at this RaiseAChild event, they were like, “We’re so proud of you for telling your story.” I believe every teenager’s story deserves to be heard, especially those in the foster care system. That’s the whole reason why I wanted to do it -- to hopefully help others.
RICH: Are you still with that foster family?
MONIQUE: Right now, at 19, I’m doing the AB12 transitional housing program to live on my own. I just moved from my foster parents and they actually moved to Florida. We still keep in close contact.
RICH: What is it that you think your foster moms provided for you? What did you like best about being with them?
MONIQUE: Honestly, it was the fact that they took me into their home with open arms. Right away they made me feel at home. They gave me that sense of security and gave me love. They were the parents I never had. I’m thankful for everything that they’ve done for me. In fact, they protected me from my own parents, which is sad. It’s sad that I had to have other people protect me from my own biological parents. My foster moms never gave up on me. When I felt like giving up on myself, they gave that extra push to go that extra mile. They pushed me to graduate high school, they helped me to join the Sheriff’s explorer’s academy. They really pushed me to do things that I didn’t think I could do on my own. They never gave up on me. They picked me up when I was down. I’m grateful for that because I never had that. I never had somebody to guide me and I’m thankful for them every day.
I’m actually flying out there to Florida for Christmas to spend a week with my moms. Last year was the very best Christmas I ever experienced. Now, to go back and visit my moms will be the second good Christmas in my life.
RICH: I am so glad to hear that. How was it for you to have two moms?
MONIQUE: I enjoyed it. I loved it. But I never saw myself as having two moms. It’s just like every other couple. They’re good parents. I’m grateful for them and they’re just as good parents as any straight couple would be. I love them for that.
RICH: What do you feel is your biggest challenge right now in this new transition to living on your own?
MONIQUE: At first it was difficult, and I’m still barely getting used to it. It’s a new beginning. A new journey. I’m excited, to have my own place and have that type of responsibility on my shoulders. I know it’s probably weird coming from a 19 year old, but I feel like I have my goals set and my whole life ahead of me. Moving out on my own, was the first step that I had to take and I’m glad I took it.
RICH: What Christmas message would you like to put out there for the LGBT community?
MONIQUE: I have two. I have a message, and a wish.
First, don’t hide who you are. It is sad when people hide who they are. I used to hide who I was from my family. It’s sad that in some parts of the country, we LGBT people have to walk around pretty much watching our backs. I feel that every gay person should have the same rights as anybody else. So my message is to step up and be who you are and who you want to be. Don’t worry about who’s watching. Don’t worry about who’s listening. Just be you. Life is too short to pretend to be anybody else. I know, because I used to feel miserable when I had to hide from my family. Everybody should be who they are, life is too short to be anything less.
Secondly, I just wish that every foster kid in my position is able to find the kind of stability that I had with my last foster home. I wish that more homes were open to helping kids my age and kids of the LGBT community. Today, teenagers are scared and don’t have a home. For a long time, I felt like that too. Then, I came across my last foster home and I woke up every day just thankful. I hope that every other kid in my position has the same kind of experience that I had with my last home. That’s my only wish… hoping that they find somebody, a home like I had, who I still have. I just wish more doors would open.
Have you ever thought of building a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting? 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 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. 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.