For Jazmine and Curtdrieka, childhood was anything but a fairytale. The two 11-year-old girls from the Upstate of South Carolina did not know each other at the time, but each experienced forms of neglect. Drugs, alcohol and violence were everyday realities as they moved from place to place throughout their childhoods.
As an infant, Jazmine was in and out of the foster care system. Her mother struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and the effects of the addiction took their toll on Jazmine and her family. They went weeks without electricity in their home.
The neglect took a toll on Jazmine physically. Twice she contracted a severe, life-threatening inflammatory disease that develops when a very common infection is left untreated for a prolonged period. She received treatment only after her right side became temporarily paralyzed, similar to a stroke. Her condition caused permanent heart damage and she continues to struggle with chronic joint pain, especially in the cold weather. The lack of medical care as a young child, means that for the rest of her life she will need to be given a monthly shot to prevent the disease from returning.
Jazmine recalls moving a lot. “Too many times; we moved every six months for 11 years.”
In 2007, she found herself in the foster care system, staying with a foster parent who struggled to provide for her. One winter day, her case worker came to visit and found out that the foster parent had been threatening Jazmine. The case worker quickly pulled Jazmine aside, introduced her to a place called Epworth and asked her if she might want to visit it. Jazmine agreed to check it out and after taking a tour of campus she told her case worker that she wanted to move as soon as possible. A few weeks later, on March 12, 2007, she was officially placed at Epworth and moved into Stokes cottage.
Curtdrieka, the youngest of four children, lived at home with her mom. Growing up she remembers being dropped off with other family members a lot, and being confused as to why she would be separated from her mom so frequently. As she got older she came to understand what was happening–her mom was sending her away.
Curtdrieka’s mom abused drugs, and though she would turn things around at times, she always reverted back to addictive activities. In addition to substance abuse in the home, there was also on-going violence. Her mom’s boyfriend physically attacked her mother in front of the children. He never turned the violence toward the children, but the physical and emotional danger he presented was traumatizing for Curtdrieka.
Curtdrieka’s older sisters began to follow in the same path as their mother, continuing the heartbreaking cycle. “All my sisters had children at a young age,” she said. “None of them graduated high school. One of them was in and out of jail, and always getting in serious trouble.”
At age 11, Curtdrieka was placed into the foster care system. After a four month stay at another facility, her case worker arranged for her to come to Epworth. Curtdrieka was angry. She did not want to go and feared that Epworth would be another unsafe place to live. The day she moved to Epworth she begrudgingly climbed into her case worker’s car. As they drove through Columbia the case worker got lost. Curtdrieka remembers the day well.
“I remember we were driving along and I looked out the window and saw an Epworth sign but the case worker didn’t see it. I just kept my mouth shut and let her drive on by. I thought that if she could not find it, then I would not have to move there.”
Eventually the case worker regained her bearings and helped Curtdrieka move into Stokes Cottage. It was March 14, 2007.
Adjusting to Epworth
Within two days of each other Jazmine and Curtdrieka both moved to Epworth. Each came from different circumstances but they now found themselves as the “new girls” on campus. They were born in the same town and just weeks apart. They were placed in some of the same foster homes at various times before coming to Epworth, but had never met. On March 15, 2007, the two girls woke up for the first time under the same roof. It would be the first of many.
“At first I was really quiet, but I made friends pretty quick,” Jazmine remembers. Curtdrieka remembers being angry at first but it didn’t take long to adjust. “We were little then so it was easier,” she recalls.
The cottage staff in Stokes cottage worked to help them adjust to life at Epworth. Ms. Johnson and Ms. Kim made sure the girls had plenty of time to play with the other girls and were able to get a good start at their new school. “They loved us.”
Curtdrieka remembers fondly what it was like back then. “Back home, I knew I was smart and that I could do better in school than I was doing. When I got here, they starting encouraging me to do more and had higher expectations. That would not have happened back home.” Jazmine can relate to that, too. “If I would have stayed at home I would have never even made it to high school. No one in my family ever did, I would have been a drop out for sure.”
As the two girls got settled there were plenty of hard moments too. Both girls still loved their mothers but struggled with the idea of maintaining a relationship with their families. The heartache that was the result of years of neglect and chaotic homes was difficult to endure. The staff encouraged them to write family members, but neither girl was very receptive to the idea. Eventually the parental rights of each of their mothers was terminated. Periods of sadness and grief came and went for the girls as they wrestled with the reality of their childhoods.
As the two girls started to grow up together and blossom into teenagers, they began to thrive at Epworth. The girls actively participated in the educational, emotional, physical, and spiritual programs around campus.
“I started doing better and by the time I was in middle school, I worked my way into taking honor’s level classes,” recalls Curtdrieka. In high school she earned a Certificate in Mobile Electronics through the Heyward Career and Tech Center in the Richland One School District. She fell in love with math and science. Through the same center, Jazmine discovered that she loved helping others and received her Certification as a Nursing Assistant while still in high school.
Both girls became frequent members of the school Honor Roll and became increasingly active in after school and summer programs. “We have done things here we would have never done if it were not for Epworth,” Jazmine says.
They went camping and fishing at Epworth’s Camp Glenyr near Orangeburg. They took adventure trips to kayak, raft and complete high-ropes courses. They both learned to ride horses and looked forward to the opportunities with local camps and equestrian programs to ride. They took day trips to water parks and always took advantage of Epworth’s annual weeklong beach trip.
At 16, Jazmine had a breakthrough in her life. She started to accept the reality of her past, and came to believe that she could take care of herself and had the ability to do more with her life. She realized that she did not have to follow the same path as her family. The realization brought a sense of peace to her and enabled her to begin reconnecting with some of her cousins, then later her grandmother. Eventually she even reconnected with her mother.
Jazmine can reflect on her situation now and the role it continues to play in her life. “My family situation is not right,” she says. “It disgusts me. It took me 16 years to get over it, until I started doing things for myself and realized I could do better. The past motivates me to do everything I can to be better.”
The two girls grew up together. They secured summer jobs and later part-time jobs at a local retail store during the school year—while maintaining their honor roll status. Their manager praises them for their hard work as clerks. They are receiving more shifts to make extra money. By all accounts, the once reserved girls transformed into stellar young women.
By their late teens, both Jazmine and Curtdrieka were clearly excelling at Epworth. They took full advantage of the opportunities in front of them but as they became the oldest children on campus a desire to do more grew. They wanted to give back.
It started with their participation in Salkehatchie, an annual summer service program of the United Methodist Church. For a week they volunteered to travel to the upstate, wake up at 6:00AM, and do hard and physically demanding work for those in need. They learned to paint, hang siding and even to re-roof a home. “I didn’t care that I had to wake up early,” says Curtdrieka. “We had devotions, awesome worship, did fun things that helped people.” …Jazmine interrupts, “And the food was awesome!”
Their habit of giving back continued. They began helping the younger girls on campus. They played with them and encouraged them to do better in school. The younger girls opened up to them about their own struggles. “We are the old ones now and we wanted to set a good example for them,” says Jazmine.
Their good deeds extend beyond campus as well. At Christmas they combined their money from part-time jobs and adopted a family in need to provide presents. They volunteer at the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter. They do not just serve the food but they seek out real conversations with those they serve. Sometimes when the cottage has leftovers, they go to the park and bus station to give a sandwich or snack to those who are homeless.
“I guess because we were on the receiving end of so many good things here at Epworth it just means so much to us to give back to others. We get to know the people we are serving and it just feels good,” says Jazmine. “I can call some of the people we serve at the shelter and park by name. I mean we know them.”
This summer the girls are graduating from high school and moving into young adulthood. All year they have been taking the SAT and ACT and applying to colleges in anticipation of their graduation. With their academic success and stories of resilience, the girls were accepted by multiple colleges.
Jazmine really enjoyed her nursing program in high school and wants to pursue her nursing degree. Curtdrieka’s love of math and science, her experience in mobile electronics and her earned reputation in the cottage as the TV and computer repairwoman, are leading her to look into computer engineering programs. Both girls had the same school on their short list—Lander University in Greenwood.
After being accepted they decided they would attend Lander and room together. Their support system will continue and increase their likelihood of success. Nationally, only 2% of foster children complete college, but both of these girls are committed to beating the odds. In addition to each other, they will be a part of Epworth’s Independent Living/Higher Education Program. They will continue to receive support from Epworth staff and come “home” to visit for weekends and holidays.
Both girls have big dreams. Jazmine wants to be a traveling nurse and go around the country seeing new places. Curtdrieka wants to be a computer engineer and continue to fix things, but she wants to settle down somewhere permanently. The future is bright, but both girls say they will keep Epworth part of their lives.
“Oh we are coming back. We talk about it all the time, having cottage reunions with the other girls and staff,” says Jazmine. Curtdrieka especially wants to come back for alumni events like the BBQ and summer homecoming. “As a kid here, I love it when alumni come back and get to know us. We have so much fun talking to them and hearing their stories. That’s going to be us one day for some other kids,” she says.
Seven years ago Jazmine and Curtdrieka faced uncertain futures. “Without Epworth my life would be miserable,” Jazmine says. “Mine too,” says Curtdrieka. When the girls arrived at Epworth they were given the opportunity to rise above the cycle of neglect that dominated their childhoods. Each girl seized the opportunities provided for them and broke the cycle of neglect. Their stay transformed them into mature and intelligent young women with bright futures ahead. Jazmine and Curtdrieka now enter college and a new chapter in their lives, a chapter that would not exist without Epworth’s care and support.