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My Club is My Family

Published on September 21, 2016 under Child Welfare

The following are the remarks of Temple Terrace Boys & Girls Club member, Rayna, delivered at the September 15 Faces of the Future Breakfast:

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Rayna and her father; Photo by Christina Stuart Photography

To me, Boys & Girls Clubs means opportunity: to become successful, to fulfill dreams, and to be part of a long-lasting family. Of these, I am most grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a family.

Growing up, I didn’t have much experience with what a real family was like. I do now though. I experience it every day at my Boys & Girls Club.

My name is Rayna, I am 16 years old and proud 3 year member of the Temple Terrace Boys & Girls Club.

Family was just something I never had. My mom left when I was 4, and my grandparents in Puerto Rico abandoned me and my Dad. And the family I did have, I was separated from on many occasions.

When I was 8 my mother came back for me. She took me from my dad who had always been there for me. She took me from the only family I knew. One day, she just showed up at school. Someone from the office came to my class saying that I was being checked out, and when I came down the hall I saw a woman with the biggest smile. When I realized that woman was my mother I jumped into her arms and never wanted to let go! As we walked to her car I told her we needed to call my dad to let him know where l was going. My mother told me she had already spoken with him and everything would be fine. I was 8 and I hadn’t seen my mother in 4 years. Of course I believed her; as a young child you are not going to question if your Mom is telling the truth. I just wanted to have a mother again. Little did I know what was coming next.

I spent almost a year surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and a constant fear that kept me awake every night. I missed my dad terribly and every night I would just pray and pray that I would get to be with him again. Over the 4 years when it was just me and my dad we formed an unbreakable bond. One I really didn’t understand until I was away from him. I used the saying “Daddy and Daughter Against the World” because even at 8 I knew no matter what came our way, we would always get through it together.

Because of this strong bond, I began to wonder when I would see him again.

Then my mother was in a near fatal car accident while driving drunk. Though the crash nearly ended her life, it was a new beginning for me. Or so I thought.

Yes, I was reunited with my dad.

But things didn’t work out how I thought they would in my 8 year old mind. Three years later my father and his girlfriend were having problems and he decided to take me and move back to Puerto Rico where he had family. He said we would be happy there. We could finally have a real family.

Just like my mom before, without telling anyone, he took me out of school, and I believed everything would be fine. After all, it was always “Daddy and Daughter Against the World!” We lived in Puerto Rico for 2 years, where it was supposed to be better for us. It was the complete opposite. It was torture. We slept on old couches, doors were padlocked, and my own grandparents hid food from us. I just didn’t understand how family could treat their own like that. I cried every single night, but never to where anyone would see…

I felt that I had to stay strong for my dad.
My father couldn’t get a job, so there was no money to leave! We nearly became homeless. We had nowhere to go.

No way to get out.

Finally, when we were at the end of our rope and our options were zero – We found a way. We were finally out. We were finally happy. We were finally free.

So we came back to Florida with a temporary living situation until we got the opportunity to move to Temple Terrace. The place I call home. The place where I found my Boys & Girls Club, with the people I call family. At my Club I found opportunity. The opportunity to become successful.

There are many programs at the Club that have driven me to become successful–Keystone, Jr Staff and College Readiness to name a few.

My Keystone Club’s impact will forever change my life…
Through Keystone I participated in a Unity Day program. Keystone Teens from all over the country worked with Florida Special Olympians during a day of competition, fun and friendship. That was my Aha! moment. That experience along with everything I learned in programs like, College Readiness and Jr. Staff put it all together. I recognized my dream. My dream is to become an occupational therapist with the Special Olympics.

I am proud to say I am currently a junior at Eu Gallie High School with a 3.8 GPA and the drive to know I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.

Because of my Club and its opportunities, I now have direction for my future. I know I will go to college to pursue my dream, and I know I will be successful.
At my Club I found opportunity. The opportunity to be part of such a special family. I learned that family is defined by emotional, if not financial support. I learned that family doesn’t have to be blood. Family pushes you to your fullest potential, they never let you give up and will be there to see you succeed. How crazy is it that, that a little girl who had gone through the toughest times, whose only experience with family was unhappiness and fright, now almost 17, is able to call so many people her family? The Boys & Girls Club is a part of me. It is my family. It’s who I’ve become and is the foundation for my future.

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