former foster child overcomes the odds
Rosimay Venancio has the kind of smile that can light even the darkest of rooms.
Her laugh is infectious. As I sit across from her, I find it hard to imagine that such a vibrant young woman could have ever attempted to take her own life.
But the beaming and outgoing woman who now sits across from me has had a difficult life beyond what many can imagine. At the age of only four, she and her family left Angola to escape a brutal civil war. She arrived in Toronto at the age of nine but what was supposed to be a fresh start was short-lived; her parents soon after separated and her mother, unable to obtain legal status in the country, returned to Angola, leaving her behind.
Venancio was only 14-years-old.
The down spiral continued from there. She was soon placed in a loving foster home but as care legally ends at the age of 18, Venancio spent only two years with the family. By the age of 17 she was living on her own struggling to make ends meet. She became depressed and eventually attempted to take her own life by drinking a bottle of floor cleaner. Unsuccessful, years later she found herself planning to jump in front of a subway car but just as she headed to the platform, Venancio says something stopped her.
“Something greater than me held me back, pulled me back and said, ‘Rosi, don’t do this, it gets better,'” she says.
Never could she have imagined just how much better things would get. Now 25-years-old, she is studying health policy at York University while working as a project coordinator at the University Health Network. It’s a remarkable feat for the young woman, considering less than half of youth in foster care manage to complete high school, never mind go on to pursue a post-secondary education.
Venancio says she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for the support of a supervisor at work who had once been in foster care herself. She says her supervisor’s ability to transform her own life inspired her to make a difference and as a result, today Venancio is developing her own program to help improve the lives of others in foster care. Called CHEERS, (Creating Hope and Ensuring Excellent Roads to Success), the aim of the program is to support youth as they transition out of the system. It will include one-on-one mentorship with a young person who once lived in the system, career mentorship and group counselling.
“The idea is to have the youth claim their own identity outside of the child welfare umbrella,” explains Venancio. “If you’re always under the child welfare umbrella…. when are you really going to claim your identity and be who you are?”
“I used to be that former youth in care but today, I’m Rosimay.”
Although CHEERS is currently in a pilot phase, it has gained the support of local child and youth organizations such as the Covenant House and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. She has created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for her program and once underway, the Central Toronto Community Health Centre plans to sponsor it.
Venancio has also received international recognition for her efforts to enact change within her community; she was one of only three Canadians awarded the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award. While she was supposed to travel to London and meet the Queen last month, passport issues barred her from traveling. But despite the setback, Venancio’s story still has a happy ending; the Toronto Star has been sharing her story with its readers and CHEERS has begun to slowly but surely gain traction.
And on June 22, Venancio officially became a Canadian citizen.
“Sometimes I really am brought to tears because I look at how far I’ve come,” says Venancio. “If you told me even as recently as three years ago that things were going to get better, I would have not believed you.”
“I hope to inspire others with my story. So to anyone out there, tell them it gets better.”
Venancio needs $75,000 to officially launch her program. You can donate online at http://www.gofundme.com/cheersprogram or use the charitable registration number 4291448994001.