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“Being in Foster Care Has Been A Privilege”

Rayssa“It all happened in a way that brought me to where I am today. I am no longer lost,” explained Rayssa when sharing the details of her life's journey. Born in Brazil, Rayssa moved to Connecticut with her mother, stepfather and her sister when she was six years old. “My mom had a friend who was selling her house, so she brought us to the United States because it was a really good opportunity for my family," she said. Despite her mom’s desire to provide a better life for her daughters, it was not possible for the girls to remain safely at home. Rayssa and her sister were placed into foster care. Although Rayssa will not return home, she shares a close relationship with her mother and her sister. When speaking of her biological father in Brazil, Rayssa explains “He doesn’t really know me anymore, he just knows me as my 6-year-old self. We never stayed connected when I moved to the US and it’s really okay."

Rayssa and Foster Mom“When I came to the US, I didn’t know how to speak or write in English. I taught myself by listening and practicing,” she proudly explained. Rayssa is now fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese. Although she loved school growing up, she had some had some difficulties in her early adolescent years. "I changed foster homes and schools often and lived in a group home. I was struggling. I am very grateful for all my foster homes; I struggled socially and had a lot of anxiety. I made it really hard on everyone. I am not mad for needing to leave those places, I am grateful," she said. 

For the past fourteen months, Rayssa has lived with Shana and Rob Heon, therapeutic foster parents through Waterford Country School. They have been fostering for the past twenty-one years.  “I’m really grateful for them," Rayssa said. “I don’t tell them enough how grateful I really am, I think it’s because I am scared. They never gave up on me when they could have," Rayssa said with tears in her eyes. 

Shana, Rayssa foster mom, is very proud of her. “Rayssa is a happy young lady with a lot of dreams and goals.  She is very independent and does not hesitate to make decisions that fit her needs, she is also not afraid to ask for assistance when she identifies a need. She is a very young high school senior with so many possibilities ahead of her," she said. 

RayssaWhen asked about her social worker, Rayssa lit up and smiled. “She actually cares about me," Rayssa said. Gina Cluff, a social worker from the Willimantic Office, mirrors that same admiration for Rayssa. Rayssa was nominated by Ms. Cluff to be highlighted as an exceptional youth.  "She has shown to be a mature, determined individual," stated Ms. Cluff. “Rayssa has the kind of perseverance and drive that despite all of the challenges she has faced over her young life, always shines through. She is resilient and engaging and can admit, even if it may take some processing first, that, at times, she could improve in certain areas. It has been a breath of fresh air at how accepting Rayssa has been to new ideas, supports and services, regardless if it may present as a challenge for her. Rayssa has overcome many barriers but, all the while, has been able to maintain a positive attitude throughout the obstacles she has faced. Rayssa has come a long way and will undoubtedly continue to improve and succeed. I look forward to watching her grow into the wonderful young adult that she is becoming and seeing what her future holds.” 

Our Piece of the Pie LogoRayssa was extremely humbled when asked to talk about her successes, repeatedly expressing her gratitude for all that she has. Rayssa is now a straight ‘A’ Student, plays tennis and volleyball and is a member of the Department’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB). She attends therapeutic services through CHR and, is actively involved with Our Piece of the Pie (OPP) - EastConn, a program that provides financial incentives for youth to complete their schoolwork and develop learning skills. According to Connie Sipos, Rayssa’s supervisor at OPP, this past year was a difficult time for everyone because of COVID-19 restrictions resulting in learning together and pivoting to create a successful experience. “Rayssa stuck with the program and was very successful. She then took the initiative to join our year-round program, 'COOL Directions'. I like the fact that she is able to advocate for herself and put herself in a position to be successful. I have also witnessed her be a cheerleader for her foster sister. She is helpful and loving. Rayssa is a kind, smart and hardworking individual,” Connie added.

On June 11th, Rayssa, who is just 16 years old, will proudly graduate early from Killingly High School and hopes to transition into young adulthood while pursuing a career as an Ultrasound Technician. “I’m bringing my foster parents, my sister and my mom to graduation. Mr. and Mrs. Heon are my family," she explained. 

“Every single thing that happened has brought me to this good place. Being in foster care has been a privilege for me.”