Rodericka Carter, 21, lives in an almost empty apartment high up over Brickell. Although she has lived there about a year, her belongings are limited to a couch, a television and plastic containers that fill the corners of the rooms.
The rent is being paid by ChildNet, a nonprofit that helps young adults transitioning out of the foster care system and into adulthood, providing life-skills training, academic support and financial aid.
In Carter’s case, ChildNet partnered with SOS Children’s Villages Florida, a social services organization, and its Next Steps program. That program also helps foster children transition after aging out.
Around Christmas in 2014, Carter, her mother and five siblings traveled from Tallahassee to Miami to visit their grandmother. After Carter’s grandmother fell ill, her mother decided they needed to stay in Miami and found a house.
Though Carter, the oldest and 15 at the time, believed her mom was paying rent, they were actually squatting, police told her.Eventually police evicted the family of seven, giving them 24 hours to leave. The car Carter’s family used to travel to Miami had broken down, and they had no way to transport their belongings.
She said her mom, feeling backed into a corner, threatened to commit suicide, which, in turn, led to her being taken for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act. Though she and her siblings hoped their mother’s stay in the hospital would be brief, the days turned into weeks and then into months.
Over the years, her brothers and sisters were placed in separate homes, but she sees them all except the youngest, whom she talks to on FaceTime.
Carter said her current goal is to gain custody of her siblings — now aged between 7 and 17 — and get a degree in chemical engineering.
Carter said it was while attending South Miami Senior High that she discovered her love for math and science.
“I’m good at chemistry from the grades I was seeing, from the A’s I was getting,” she said. “From then on I wanted to become a chemical engineer and with the money I would make I want to open up my own group home.” She’s enrolled at Miami Dade College now.
As the oldest, she said she was more accustomed to being in control, and the first few months in foster care were difficult. But she soon found opportunities to lead, convincing the staff at her home to throw her a “Sweet 16” birthday party. This, in turn, led to a practice of throwing big celebrations for other kids at the home.
Still, there were reminders things were not all good.
“They threw me a huge Sweet 16 and when they told me I was so happy,” she said. “They were like ‘Oh we’ll allow you to have a Sweet 16 but your family can’t come.’ It was a bittersweet memory,” said Carter.
She talks to her mom by phone on a regular basis. “We have a relationship. It’s not like it was five years ago, but we have a relationship… She’s still a mother to me, but I don’t expect her to take care of me, you know, I take care of myself.”
LaShonda Cross, Carter’s case worker from SOS, nominated her for Wish Book.
Carter’s wishes, said Cross, are all based on her desires to reunite with her family and pursue her education. The items she’s seeking include gift cards for clothes, food, bed sheets, Uber cards and a printer so she can print out her college assignments. The total value is about $1,000.
“She’s a very caring person, she definitely puts others over herself,” said Cross. “We had to try and guide her to ask for things more for herself. Objects for herself, things to fill her household and supplies for school.”
Tiwana Huggins, Carter’s life coach from SOS, said she has to constantly remind her to enjoy her youth because she is so focused on getting her family back together. SOS partners each foster child in its care with a coach like Huggins, who helped Carter register for college and make a budget.
“I’ve met all her siblings. They’re all sweet kids, very likable, very respectable, all sweet mannered kids. And Rodericka did a good job in getting them that way,” said Huggins.
Elio Díaz is a Cuban-American journalism student who is pursuing a career in sports journalism and commentating. Díaz has a background in mixed martial arts and hopes to use that experience to better relate to and interview combat athletes