“I am so happy I have the opportunity to talk about my experience with Project Independence and Lori. She truly has been nothing short of an absolute godsend and a miracle worker! When I went into foster care it felt a lot like I had no one in my corner and then I met her, and everything sort of fell into place after all of the lessons she had to teach me.” Angela – Age 22 – Toms River – 2019
When Angela was 14, her stepfather, a man she admired and respected, passed away. Her Mom, suffering from bi-polar depression, contracted an illness at the nursing home she was working at, ended up losing her job, losing her health insurance, and unable to afford her bipolar medications. She returned to heroin, which she had successfully quit years before, and the family situation began to spiral out of control. There was abuse and neglect, and Angela turned to alcohol and contemplated suicide. When she was 16, she and her nephew (age 6) were removed from the home and placed into foster care.
When she was a senior in high school, she joined Project Independence. Project Independence is a program of Preferred Behavioral Health Group that provides life skills for children in out-of-home placements, such as foster care. Working with Lori O’Brien, she realized that she would be able to realize her dream of attending college – which she never believed would happen – “it was like a dream come true,” she said. She and Lori worked on budgeting, money management, college application forms, and searched for grants, scholarships, and other financial aid.
The following year she enrolled in Ocean County College where she earned her Associate Degree in Criminal Justice two years later. But she is not finished with her education. Today, at age 22, she is a Junior, living at Ramapo College, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Forensic Criminology! It’s a challenge – she works several jobs and is in school full-time, but she is determined with a will to succeed. She plans to earn her master’s degree in Forensic Psychology. When she is not living at school, she stays with her Mom, who has been drug-free since a few months after Angela and her nephew were removed from the home. They are working at rebuilding their relationship. It isn’t easy, but according to Angela, “being bitter takes too much effort…I’m working at compassion.”
Angela credits Project Independence with giving her the tools she needed to succeed. “I go to Lori with all of my questions, school and general life- related. I know for a fact that without Lori, I never would have made it to being a junior at a college I’ve loved since I saw it. I never even thought I would make it to college. I didn’t have a college fund, I had no resources, no money for tuition or books, nor did I have a clue about all the steps I needed to take to start and then continue my education. Lori has been and always will be a shining beacon of hope.”
An Update on Angela! November 2022
Angela has come a long way in four years. Despite her early challenges, she has persevered and is building a wonderful life for herself. In 2019 she was a junior at Ramapo college, working several jobs to pay her bills and tuition, and looking forward to graduation.
Angela graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2020. In 2021, she got married and together she and her husband Cas bought a house in Toms River, where they live with 2 cats, 1 dog, and a bearded dragon! She has a full time job working for in the business of healthcare, and maintains a relationship with her biological mother and her foster family.
She continues to stay in touch with her Project Independence mentor Lori and still credits her with giving her the tools she needed to succeed. In her own words:
For more information on PBHG’s Project Independence, contact Lori O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.