Hello, My name is Wanda Collins and this is "My Story” – Striving for Greatness
"The Gut Wrenching Truth"
I wish I could sugar coat things and paint a vivid picture of the perfect life I lived up until now, but that would be lying to you. The truth is I am a product of the "foster care system" and my life was no walk in the park. I don’t want you to pity me because what I endured was all part of Gods plan. My sisters and I were chosen to help bring awareness to the pitfalls of the foster care system. After reading my story, I hope you are enlightened and it inspires you to rise above your circumstances despite your own life’s trials and tribulations. Life was cruel to me at first. I say at first because now I am walking down the path that leads to my destiny thanks to my support system and my "awakening."
26 years ago....
This was not the case years ago, and we will get into that in just a minute, but first let me tell you about the not so lovely part of my life. Imagine this, you are 6 years old laying in bed when you are awaken suddenly by the screams of your 10 month old baby sister and your parents are no where to be found. In an attempt to comfort your baby sister, you fix her a bottle of milk but you don't know any better and heat up the bottle in the microwave for too long and give it to her without letting it cool first and it burns her mouth. You know something is wrong because her screams have intensified. The only logical thing left for you to do is to go get help. Our neighbors call the police. When the police arrive at the scene they were appalled at the state of the living conditions. We lived in a rooming house in which my parents rented one room that had only two beds with no running plumbing. A bucket was our toilet as well as our sink. Consequently, all of these factors led to our removal and placement in the "foster care system." I remember it like it was yesterday.
Imagine sitting in the back of a police car, thinking I have just destroyed my whole family. Imagine, as a 6-year-old how heavy this would weigh on your heart-no 6 year old should be burdened with that. You’re sitting there with only one of your siblings as if you’ve committed a crime. Your other two siblings are in another police car and are driving off to some unknown location. You're asking questions but they all go unanswered: "Where are you taking my sisters? Why aren't they riding with us? Where are my mother and father? Where are we going?" Your worst nightmare is about to come true and a harsh reality will soon set in. You have been separated from two of your siblings and your parents... you have come to this realization once your case worker pulls up into the driveway of a house you've never been to and introduce you to people you've never met as "your foster parents." Your life has been placed in a stranger’s hand. A stranger who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in getting to know you as a person... one who only sees you as a "meal ticket.” Imagine spending sleepless nights because you are afraid of who might come into your room to do unspeakable acts- stripped of innocence and scarred for life. Thinking it could of been worse- he could have raped me and buried me in the back of that old house. Imagine missing meals because your foster care parents forgot about you and your sister, yet the refrigerator (off limits to you) is filled with food and drinks. Not all of the foster homes we resided at were like this, but still, no child should have to go through that. We bounced from foster home to foster home for 4 years until...
Fast-forward 5 years: The Good life
I can still smell the "Mr. Clean scent” from the freshly mopped floors of this beautiful home located on a Cul-de-sac. The house was nothing like I’ve ever seen before-the landscaping was perfect. Once inside, I knew right away that it was brand spanking new...you can still smell the fresh paint from the walls and there was white sparkling tile. There were 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a living room, a large kitchen, and a den area. The furniture had never been sat on and my bed had never been laid on. I was stunned and excited at the same time because before we arrived at our destination, my case worker informed my sister and I we would be moving to a permanent location and be reunited with our siblings for the first time in 4 years. This moment was bitter sweet because although I was at a permanent location in which I could call my own and be reunited with my siblings, I still longed for the comfort from my biological parents-a heart wrenching longing. I was still afraid and had a hard time trusting people because of my painful past. Consequently, I had trouble sleeping the first couple of months.
My current foster care parent noticed my peculiar sleeping habits and showed concern and for the first time since being separated from my parents, I felt someone was genuinely concerned about my well-being. I quickly took a liking to her and over the years our bond grew stronger and the relationship we developed was one in which mother and daughters share. And even though she wasn’t my biological mother I called her mom because she nurtured and cared for me as if I was her own child. We were a family and for once in my life I felt safe and secure. The place I am speaking of is called SOS Children’s Village. It is a foster care neighborhood off in the cut that has twelve houses, which house up to seventy-five boys and girls. We were a close nit family and did practically everything together. We spent an adequate amount of time doing things a normal family would do. We ate dinner together every night, went on family outings, and family vacations. I performed well in school because I receive the necessary support to boost my confidence and encouragement to help me reach my full potential. I call this part of my life, "The Good life” because during this time I was inexplicably happy.
Playing School-Teaching was in my blood
We turned our den into a play area. It was a small area that was connected to the living room. We spent a great deal of time in this room after school and sometimes on the weekends when we weren’t on family outings. I would play school with my siblings in which I was the teacher and they were my students. I taught them everything from under the sun. I found it rewarding and gratifying when my siblings understood what I taught. I knew that when I grew up I was going to be a teacher-talk about speaking things into existence. However, my mom wasn’t so thrilled about this career choice and convinced me to choose a different career path. According to mom, teaching was out of the question because they don’t get paid enough for what they do. For me, pay wasn’t even a factor in the equation when making my decision. I was more concerned about whether or not I would be happy...happy every morning to wake up and drive to a job I love. On the other hand, I wanted her to be proud of me, so in high school I chose nursing as my major because I would still be able to care for people. She was happy with my decision. However, as fate would have it...
High School Sweethearts
"People say high school is about getting an education and getting into a good college to succeed in life. Well, to me, high school is about making memories and good times that will last forever" Unknown
It wasn’t easy for me to fall in love with Christopher McDowell. He pursued me, but I wasn’t going to give him the time of day until he proved himself worthy of my attention. He never gave up and my mom was always on his side making comments of how he was going to be her son-in-law. Her words rang true years later when we got married, but before we were betrothed there was a push and pull and we had to separate for a while until we found "a love balance.” The universe put us back together in 10th grade and ultimately we both got accepted to Florida Atlantic University. During our sophomore year, we made an irresponsible decision and he had to put his life on hold because I got pregnant. Needless to say, but isn’t it ironic that when we got back together in high school we were also sophomores.
He got a job as a security guard to support our family. I stayed in school but we were about to have another knock out in life. A change was coming and this change would destroy everything we had built. My mother in law who was a huge factor in our life (Chris’s everything)- major support system was ill for some time. God called her home a week before the birth of our first-born daughter. Words cannot fully explain the deep mental anguish I felt during this time of bereavement. Can you imagine having to celebrate a life and death at the same time? My beautiful baby girl was born and during that blessed moment I had gained a greater appreciation for life and renewed sensitivity towards people who cope with grief and loss. The true measurement of our strength was tested and we would need to triumph despite of for the sake of our daughter. With the grace of God, family, and friends we were able to do so.
12 Months Prior to My Mother-in-law’s Passing...
My mom, on the other hand, was disappointed with me for my recklessness and presumed all her hopes and dreams of me becoming a registered nurse were smashed to smithereens. My best friends Angie and Chentel weren’t so much disappointed as they were shocked because I was always so determined and focused. By the end of high school, we had it all figured out: we would make our way through college, then possibly pursue a Master’s degree, get a job, and then start our own families. I remember receiving a phone call from Angie while she was away at FAMU (Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University). During our conversation, Angie threatened me and ended the call abruptly with "All I know is YOU better finish college.” After that call, I couldn’t let my best friend down. I refused to give up on myself. Mom didn’t have enough faith in me though and thought I was in no position to finish college. As you could imagine her shock when I decided to keep my baby....
I Made It!
I managed to complete college- to add insult to injury; my degree wasn’t nursing but a B.S in Interdisciplinary Social Science- ISS minor because I wanted to teach social studies. I changed my major because at the time I was thinking of my daughter and teaching offered the flexibility I needed with paid holidays off and summer vacation. I figured this was the ideal situation to have when raising a child. You know what they say, "Things happen for a reason” Plus, remember as a young girl I always loved to play school and wanted to choose this career path so I figured it was all in Gods plan. Of course mom got over this mishap because of her love for me and because despite my circumstances I was able to rise to the occasion and finish my higher education at Florida State University (Distance Learning). On another note, I got pregnant again soon after giving birth to Camia but I didn’t let that stop me. I wasn’t letting anything get in the way of me pursuing my dreams. I had it set in my heart since middle school that I would not become another statistic and I was determined to break generational curses. I would lead the way and my children would follow in my footsteps.
The moment of all moments... the moment I have been waiting for my whole life was here. The moment of me walking across the stage and peering out into the audience with a huge smile plastered across my face to look at onlookers like my husband, daughters Camia (2), and Ciara (1), Angie, and Marjorie (SOS Director at the time). Onlookers who stared at me in amazement and probably were thinking WOW! She made it...despite of...she made it!!!
Fast-forward 4 years...
We were doing well for ourselves and life couldn’t be more beautiful than it already was. It seemed like the sun shined upon us 24 hours a day. We were so happy together. People called us the "Super Star” couple and we lived up to our own high expectations of ourselves. We were always striving to be the "best version of ourselves.” BSO (Broward Sheriff’s Office) finally hired Chris as a correctional officer (3rd time’s a charm I guess). He was closer to home and didn’t have to commute from the Immokalee Jail Center (in Naples). I ended up teaching math instead of social studies because it was a critical teacher shortage area. I also had a side business called InfaCity- an online wedding community in which I had hoped to fully commit to once it became a profitable business. Camia is 4 years old, and I also had Ciara 3 while pregnant with my son. I remember thinking life can’t get any better than this. Boy was I wrong, because life hit me like a ton of bricks and I had no way of bracing myself for the hit. Although we felt blessed and were thankful for the new addition to our family, it put a financial strain on us. Imminent change was coming...
Some unknown force was trying to get me to veer off my path because Chris and I started to argue more and it was as if we were growing apart instead of growing in love. I felt like I was living with a stranger and I could relate directly to Tamia who sang, "There’s a stranger in my house.” To make a long story short, the fighting got worse and it led to infidelity on his part or so he says. It could have been the reason why we were fighting in the first place but only he and God know the cold hard truth. Of course, I forgave him because I wanted things to work out between us for the sake of the kids. We were raised in dysfunctional families and that’s probably why we had a difficult time maintaining our intimate relationship. I didn’t want this for our kids. I wanted them to live a life where both parents were present in the home. I wanted this so badly that I even closed InfaCity to help alleviate some of the financial stress and devote my full attention to him with the hope of saving our marriage. I believed if we worked on improving our communication our connection would improve as well. However, it wasn’t my choice. Chris had to want it as well. Not only that but there was a supernatural force at work and Joel Olsteen hit the nail on the head: "Nothing can happen to you without God’s permission. Your circumstances may seem out of control, but God is in complete control.” It was all in Gods hands at this point. I prayed all night long asking God to show me a sign. I got my answer two weeks later when Chris packed his bags and moved out-leaving me with three kids to fend for myself. It was rough in the beginning but "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” was a bible scripture I lived by. I focused on making myself a better person and even went back to school to acquire a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration on Management. I started a new business because of the lack of resources at my disposal and because it was my divine purpose to teach (inspire others). This online community would allow me to connect with other like-minded teachers across the globe to share best practices and perfect my craft.
They say you don’t truly appreciate life until you have gone through some sort of trauma or mishap. You go about your day without noticing the small details and the many blessings God has bestowed upon you. Through personal experience, I can honestly say this is 100% accurate. It wasn’t until the day my divorce was finalized that I realized life was a precious gift and you can’t take it for granted. I was alive, my soul was alive, my heart was awakened and I was captivated by this new me. I had come to the realization that I didn’t need a man to validate me. The only approval and validation I need is my own. If I want to be truly happy, I have to love myself before I can love another. If you don’t take away anything from my story remember this, if you believe strongly in something don’t be afraid to fight for it with every fiber of your being. In other words, never give up. Also, you have to live in the moment and live your life to the fullest. I hope you found my story life changing!
Quotes I live by...
Sagan says it best:
"We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world. We give little thought to the machinery that generates the sunlight that makes life possible, to the gravity that glues us to an earth that would otherwise send us spinning off into space, or the atoms of which we are made and on whose stability we fundamentally depend. Except for children (who don’t know enough not to ask the important questions), few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is; where the cosmos came from, or whether it was always here; if time will one day flow back backward and effects precede causes; or whether there are ultimate limits to what humans can know. There are even children, and I have met some of them, who want to know what a black hole looks like; what is the smallest piece of matter; why we remember the past and not the future; how it, if there was chaos early, that there is, apparently, order today; and why there is a universe.”
"What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”
"You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”
― William W. Purkey
"A Student is the most important person ever in this school...in person, on the telephone, or by mail.
A Student is not dependent on us...we are dependent on the Student.
A Student is not an interruption of our work. The Student’s the purpose of it. We are not doing a favor by serving the Student...the Student is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.
A Student is a person who brings us his or her desire to learn. It is our job to handle each Student in a manner which is beneficial to the Student and ourselves.”
― William W. Purkey, Becoming an Invitational Leader
Actions, not words, are the ultimate results of leadership. – Bill Owens