Before she could walk, Cherokee was neglected and physically abused by her parents. She was removed from her home at the age of three and placed with relatives, where she continued to experience neglect as well as physical and sexual abuse until the age of five.
Cherokee thought she found a safe haven when she was adopted by her grandparents, but the physical and emotional abuse intensified and continued for another seven years. She remembers feeling her only release was self-harm, and she had thoughts of suicide starting as early as the age of seven years old. Cherokee was removed from the home and placed in her first foster home at twelve.
These are the milestones Cherokee acknowledges when talking about her life story; they are embedded into her history. She is able to recount the chronological events, but her experiences were real, painful, and largely too traumatizing to put in print.
Cherokee’s journey is complicated. She received help through residential treatment and foster care in South Dakota, and that is where Cherokee crossed paths with LSS. She was encouraged to attend our independent living workshops and conferences, where she met and connected with Denise Bechard, LSS Independent Living Services.
“I can’t imagine what my life would be without Denise,” said Cherokee. “I knew some stuff but a lot of what I’ve learned, I learned from Denise and my foster mom. A lot of the conversations that my foster mom and I had were sparked by what Denise and I talked about. Denise was life-saving.”
“It’s life-saving because when you become an adult, that’s what you need—to balance your checkbook, to budget, to open a bank account, to look for places to live and to sign a lease. Even teaching me how to research and look for resources helped.”
“If I was struggling with a situation, Denise would be the one I would call and we would talk it through,” said Cherokee. “Denise was that adult in my life who gave me guidance, support and discipline. By discipline, I mean that stern talking to like, ‘You know what you need to be doing and how to be acting, so act like it.’ Sometimes, we need to hear that.”
“Denise taught me the steps to adulting—how to adult,” said Cherokee. “I’ve had things come up that I have no idea what I’m doing. She guided me through situations. I would not be able to do half of the things I’ve done as an adult without her helping me.”
LSS Independent Living Services and Foster Care Services often work hand in hand. “Denise has been there through all parts of my life. It’s not just talking about how to adult, it was talking about how I was doing in my progress and giving me personal advice,” said Cherokee. “She was there when my Grandma died, when I moved from one foster home to another, and she was there during my stay in residential care.”
“I’ve helped others not involved with this program who have had to learn everything on their own. I’ve helped them research jobs, look for a place to live, and balance their bank account. Now I think those things are not that difficult. But it is if you haven’t been taught.”
Today, Cherokee is coping with her past experiences and trauma. She is succeeding, is self-sufficient, and aspires to be an advocate and support for young people. Cherokee is optimistic about what her future holds.
LSS Independent Living Services
LSS Independent Living Services offers a strong and consistent support system to young adults ages 16 to 21 while they learn skills to be self-sufficient adults. This service is comprised of four unique programs.
Community Resource Program provides skills to youth in foster care through one-to-one education, workshops, and conferences.
New Alternatives helps young adults learn to manage severe mental illness by providing housing, case management, counseling, nursing care, and medication management in a safe place to live with 24-hour staffing.
Young Voices is a youth-led statewide peer group that seeks motivated individuals to provide VOICES to those in foster homes, placements or independent living arrangements.
REACH, Resources & Education Adolescents Choosing Healthy Behaviors targets youth ages 10-19 who are considered to be “at-risk.” REACH projects have been proven to encourage healthy relationships, avoid risky behaviors, delay sexual activity among youth, reduce pregnancy, and reduce incidents of sexually transmitted infections.