The environment in which children grow up has a significant impact on their well-being. A child’s ability to grow, learn, and explore requires a healthy, safe environment. In contrast, a poor home situation can harm a child’s intellectual, social, and emotional growth. In my lived experiences and observations of my peers, I’ve witnessed that a poor home environment throughout someone’s childhood can contribute to developmental delays, including learning disabilities and other challenges.
To address this issue, I established a nonprofit organization that focuses on children and their unique environments at home.
The mission of Creative Spaces Inspire Youth (CSIY) is to transform spaces into unique, safe havens for youth who have experienced hardships, specifically, children affected by the foster care system. Too often, these children are forced into situations where they have no control. CSIY aims to give those children back their control by allowing them to be thoughtful with their space and encouraging youth to be intentional with their areas, achieving three main objectives:
- Boosts healthy habits
- Highlights the uniqueness of that child
- Makes a scary situation feel less scary
There are two groups as of now that CSIY will serve: foster youth who have established a permanent placement, as well as foster youth who are living with a foster family temporarily.
A child staying in a permanent home may have their own bedroom to really transform into their own room, which is more welcoming, especially compared to a child staying with a foster family temporarily, who may have to share a room, or might not be in that room for long. The goal is that both groups benefit from the key objectives of using space intentionally.
Encourages healthy habits
I love the quote by James Clear, “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.” This is so important, but it is rarely discussed, especially among youth. For example, a child who enjoys reading but lacks the necessary space to do so may be unable to keep up with this healthy habit.
The environment of a room filled with books can influence a child’s behavior and motivation to read.
Pictured (l) is a room that I redid for a child who wanted a reading nook. According to a UCL Institute of Education (IOE) study, children’s ability to manage or direct their attention, ideas, emotions, and actions is influenced by their home environment.
Highlights the uniqueness of that child
Concentrating on what makes a child extraordinary and highlighting their uniqueness in their personal space makes them feel special, valued, and loved. It can be hard moving from house to house; that is why CSIY wants to alleviate some of that pain by surrounding these youth with things they love. This also encourages youth to explore their creative potential.
I had a child who loved to draw and paint, but when I went into her room, there was no desk or any art supplies. CSIY gifted her with a room that focuses on artistic creativity. It’s essential to have a healthy outlet to turn to when one goes through troubling times.
Makes a scary situation feel less scary
As I mentioned before, moving to a new house with new foster parents can be a scary process. As a former foster youth, I personally know how it feels to meet a stranger and be expected to call this stranger’s house “my home.”
My personal example is when I was placed with a foster family; scared and alone, I was led into “my” bedroom. There were two bunk beds, a pillow, and a blanket in the room. No decor, no furniture; this didn’t feel like home at all.
Now, imagine walking into a room filled with beautiful décor, beautiful furniture, and an inviting, warm aura. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so let me show you below….
An aspect of CSIY that I would like to focus on in the future is customized bunk beds for foster families who foster multiple children.
How it looks in real life:
Earlier in the year, I received my first grant for this project. I partnered with Cedars to find a family whom I would be able to bless with my talents and resources.
After finding the perfect fit, I met with the family. The goal of my meetings is to better understand the youth I would be serving, along with their personality, styles, hobbies, individual goals, and more.
I want to be able to incorporate all of this into their bedroom. I strongly emphasize to the youth that I am here to turn their dream bedroom into a reality. After meeting with the family a couple times, I developed a plan and gathered materials for the room.
We then scheduled a time for me to decorate while the youth was away, and when they returned, they found a fully-decorated room filled with items that made them feel special. After a month of living in their new bedroom, my goal is to see the youth again to ensure everything is well.
I first entered the foster care system at three years old. My father died in a car crash, and my mother, simply put, was unfit. I became my sisters’ caretaker, feeding, bathing, and comforting them during times when no one showed up to take care of us. Unlike a typical three-year-old who is friendly to almost all, I was very reserved and mature for my age.
After years of neglect from my mother, my sisters and I bounced around a few foster homes. Finally, we found one that we thought would be our forever home. This family loved us in a way that we had never been loved.
After months of living with this family, my biological grandmother drove from North Dakota to Nebraska to pick us up to live with her. I was heartbroken to leave the family we had grown to love, but eager to learn more about my biological family. Over the years, we stayed in contact with the foster family, and every summer would come back to Nebraska to visit with them.
My grandmother was an angel; she went out of her way to make sure my sisters and I were cared for in the best way. Shortly after my 13th birthday, my grandma died of a brain tumor. Saying goodbye to her was the most challenging thing I have had to overcome. She was always patient and loving towards everyone, especially my sisters and I.
Six months before my grandma died, my sisters and I were moved to Nebraska to stay with the same foster family.
However, this family had adopted four other children, so you can imagine how chaotic the house was now with seven children.
After years of living with the family, my sisters and I, along with the other children in the house, were placed in foster care due to some issues.
It’s important that I note the problem was caused by another child in the house and not the foster parents. Even though my sisters and I advocated for this foster family, the system did not listen and placed us with strangers.
My senior year of high school was ruined; since I couldn’t focus on school because of my home circumstances, I lost friends I had for years because I became more reserved than ever and would shut people out.
Due to my struggles, I have been quiet and withdrawn for most of my life. I didn’t seek out help or support, even in desperate times. My mother chose a life of drugs, violence, and crime over her three beautiful children, and I was ashamed to tell others, almost like it was my fault.
I had no desire for people to know about my personal life, with all the trauma that came with it. Over the years, however, I have learned that my story serves a purpose and by sharing it, I might assist those going through similar situations.
I didn’t step out of my comfort zone until college. It was challenging, but as I involved myself in more leadership opportunities, I finally found my voice, which I had so desperately needed. This year, as a CYI LEAP fellow*, I had the chance to participate in NYEC Action Hour where I pitched my idea for CSIY. It’s difficult to say, but I’m not sure if my idea would have materialized if I didn’t have these resources. I’m thankful for the connections and support that have led me down this path.
Everything happens for a reason, and without my obstacles, I would not be the person I am today. Without those obstacles, I would not have the resources I have today.
“Sad things happen. They do. But we don’t need to live sad forever.”— Mattie Stepanee.
The future of CSIY:
I love to partner with local organizations that provide resources for foster youth, such as the Central Plains Center for Services and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Connected Youth Initiative. When I work with youth, I want to make sure they are informed about all the resources out there for them. These resources are life-changing.
My goals after high school were unclear, but with the help of the Central Plains Center for Services and Connected Youth Initiative, I was able to find scholarships to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. These opportunities have taught me that my story is empowering, which is something I want the youngsters I work with to understand. They don’t have to be ashamed of their situation, and there are plenty of individuals who want to help them achieve their goals.
I’m also planning to create a thrift store that will support CSIY. My dream is for the kids I work with to be able to shop at the store and choose whatever they want for their rooms. The public is welcome to visit the store and shop or donate items to the mission. Foster youth are often overlooked, but this store would serve as a reminder to the public about the foster youth in their community.
I hope to serve as a role model for the younger generation. I once was in their shoes, and I know how easy it is to fall into the victim mindset. I have overcome many obstacles to become a full-time student at UNL and pursue my dream of creating my own business. I love to equip children with the necessary tools to reach their full potential. It is a strong belief of mine that each child should know plenty of people in their corner who believe in their aspirations-this is especially true for foster youth. CSIY aims to power, support, and inspire youth through intentional, meaningful spaces.
*LEAP is one of Nebraska Children’s Connected Youth Initiative (CYI)-aligned resources! CYI is a statewide program that offers supports and services ranging from financial literacy to educational resources to housing for young people 14-26 who experienced homelessness, human trafficking, foster care, juvenile justice, and probation. Thanks to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s first iteration of the national LEAP program, our CYI coaches align with these strategies. That way, young people like Tyeisha enjoy support from experts who assist them in their transition from post-secondary education and succeed in that crucial first year of college or career training!