I am more than the circumstances I had growing up. As a child, my environment was that of limited resources, drugs and alcohol, neglect and sexual abuse. Both my parents worked long hours and were hardly home, my sister who is 12 years older, was one to raise my brother and I. Even though my parents were working, we were living paycheck to paycheck, not keeping up with bills, etc. because my parents had an addiction to drugs and alcohol. I remember showing up to school in the winter without a winter coat, boots or gloves like the rest of the kids. At times, peanut butter on crackers were the dinner for the night. The babysitter my parents trusted to watch over my brother and I, sexually molested me during bedtime, which caused me to be very shy around people. So shy in fact, that when my biological dad left my family when I was a baby, and attempted to come into my life at the age of 8, I hid behind my mother because I didn’t know the man in front of me was my own father. 

I was in the 4th grade when I was pulled into the principal’s office, to a lady who was sitting there that wasn’t my principal. The lady started to ask me about my home life, what my parents did, and if I knew about drugs in the home, to which I lied as my reply because I knew that was something not to talk about. She then told me that I wouldn’t be going back to my home after school, my parents were sent to jail because of the use of drugs and my brother and I would be going on the bus to my grandparents that day to stay for a while. After 9 months of treatment and counseling between my parent and us, they got us back.

Growing up in a small town of 300 in Iowa, the community caught word of my brother and I being taken away from our home. Because of this, some of my friends couldn’t stay the night at my birthday parties in middle school and had to leave early because of the parents concern with my living situation. I was in high school at the time, and my small town had a festival every year across the street from my house in the park. I was waiting for my friend to come over so we could go join in the festivities when I heard a huge knock at the door. Before I had the chance to fully open the door, a team of cops and a drug dog barge into the door yelling ‘get down on the ground, get down on the ground”. They pull my mother out of her room as she is bawling, I am holding her to comfort her. My brother is outside mowing, and they bring him in as well while they search the preemies. The drug dog and team are searching through our whole house for drugs, only to find a small amount. A tip had come to the cops saying my parents were dealing the drugs, which was very wrong, and the whole town had witnessed multiple cop cars pull into our yard, drug dog, etc. They apologized for the embarrassment they brought upon our family, chose to not even handcuff my mom but still brought her to jail for the small amount of marijuana they had found. A label had been placed on my family because of that incidence and small towns tend to be unforgiving.

From the time I was taken away, I had the opportunity to attend this summer camp in my community called Wildwood Hills Ranch of Iowa. It was founded in 2001, and my older brother actually got to be one of the first campers to ever go there where I became a camper in 2003 when I was old enough to go. Little did I know, this camp was for at-risk children all over the state of Iowa, I just thought it was a fun summer camp! Some of the activities included horseback riding, team building, art, canoeing, kayaking, swimming in the lake, and nightly assemblies with worship and skits about God. Wildwood serves children 8-12 and have youth development and leadership skill building from 13-18. They make a 10 year commitment to the children who are referred to them through DHS, Boys and Girls Club, Community Partners, Schools, etc. I had no idea how purposeful and impactful the camp would have on me but it got me to where I am today. The constant in my life and the mentorship I received through Wildwood’s program set me up to overcome my circumstances. The development of leadership through team building I learned through Wildwood, where most children get that through their parents, the talent show on Thursday’s helped me get over my stage fright and shyness, the councilors helped guide me to make better decisions and it didn’t stop!

Even though I had Wildwood as the constant in my life, the hard times didn’t stop, and in all honesty, my 22 years of living, I know they won’t. I was 14 when I was introduced to alcohol by my brother and my mother is an alcoholic so I felt myself following her footsteps. I was also pressured to smoke pot at the age of 15 by my brother and his friends, although the real reason why I tried it was to see why it was such an important drug that it can get your kids taken away… was it truly worth it?! The answer is no. I never tried it again and it was a great learning experience for me. I broke up with a negative boyfriend I was with, slowed down on the drinking and tried to get my life back together. I got a job at Subway as soon as I turned 16 to pay for my car insurance and with sports on top of that, I definitely stayed busy. 

Another impactful moment in my life was when I was 16 I was introduced to a man that was 2 years older than me and we went four wheeling in the mud one day, my clothes were soaked. He offered to wash them, because he had his own house with his older brother, and I wore some of his clothes while they were washing. He was a very muscular guy, I had no chance of defending myself, and he then raped me after I repeatedly said no. This crushed me. I was working, still in sports and kept myself busy enough to try to heal from the trauma I had just gone through and that may have been my saving grace. I could have turned into a depressive state, self-harm or other unhealthy ways to deal with the circumstance I was in but I didn’t. 

Through all the adversities, I had a constant in my life with Wildwood and once I turned 18 I had the biggest calling from God to really find my purpose in him. I got saved April 28th of 2013. It was at this moment that God revealed to me my life purpose. My personal mission statement is to educate at-risk children that their past does not define their future, through speaking, training and sharing my testimony. God allowed me to go through the life experiences of molestation, rape, being taken away because of drugs, all the adversity to be an example to all the children who are going through the same thing. I want to continue to show them that THEY can change their circumstances and be an example of how to do that! You are never too late to make a change in your life, I encourage those who are hurt, struggling, and lost to reach out to healthy mentors and do some personal development. We live in a crazy world, and some circumstances we cannot change, but what we can change is our reactions and decisions to those circumstances. I AM MORE. 

We are always looking for that one perfect picture, but the true perfect picture is the one that makes it seem as if that moment in time is happening all over again.