By Erin Crowell
It was a long two years, Brittany Denzel says of her time earning cosmetology certification at Traverse City Beauty College. As the sole graduate on May 5, the 21-year-old Denzel donned a pink tiara and colorful eye shadow a runway themed graduation that matched her outlook on life.
You could say the bubbly, outgoing young woman has been struttin her stuff. While many young adults face challenges after being discharged from the foster care system, Denzel has thrived. She will share her success story with audiences at the 9th Annual Festival of Tables, a fundraising event for Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan, held May 14 & 15 at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City.
A CHANGE IN LANDSCAPE
Denzel entered the foster care system at the age of 14. She and her brothers, ages three and nine, were in an unstable living situation, as Denzel puts it. They were placed in an emergency care home.
Child and Family Services said we couldnt stay there long and I didnt like that, says Denzel. The family had four biological daughters. I grew really close to them.
Just days after moving into their first foster home, the three siblings were sent to live with David and Lynette Schneider of Brethren.
I like being outdoors; and living in the country, thats been my dream. We had horses and a river and a pond. You got to have time to yourself. It wasnt a go, go place, Denzel recalls.
It was a change in landscape; but Denzel said the adults in her life changed just as quickly.
I would get really close to a case worker and then, all of a sudden, they left which happened a lot, she says. You develop trust with your case worker, and I actually had a lot of trust issues with adults for awhile because of that.
Most of Denzels case workers left the agency for different job opportunities, says Family Services Echo Dean the last case worker who followed Denzel through her final months of foster care.
At first, it was hard for me to open up, Denzel says of her last case worker. But I really liked her name. I mean, Echo how cool is that? We became great friends.
Dean proved to be one of the consistent elements in Denzels life, along with the ever-present support from the Schneider family.
They really taught me I was better than the standard my biological family had set for me, Denzel says.
IN THE FAMILY
Denzel wont be alone when she shares her story at the Festival of Tables Denzels niece, seven-year-old Summer will also discuss her experience living with a new family.
Amy Young, Denzels foster sister, adopted Summer a few years back.
I really started getting a heart for foster care when my parents were taking kids in, says Young.
In January, Young and her husband adopted five foster children under their care, which included Summer, bringing the Young household total to 10.
One day, Summer wrote a paper in school talking about her experience going into foster care, and she read it in front of the class says Young. She talked about how thankful she is, that foster care helps kids find their families. She said The family I was in before didnt make good choices for me; but God was looking all over the world and found a family that made good choices for me. I guess she had all the teachers crying.
Summer will read her paper at the Festival of Tables.
STICKING WITH IT
While her brothers returned home after just six months in foster care, Denzel decided to stick with it staying in the system until she was 18.
It forced me to grow up, says Denzel. It was an opportunity to mature and be a different person.
Denzel proved her maturity through her many aspirations, which included graduating from Brethren High School and attending Teen Mania Ministries, located in Garden Valley, Texas where she went on mission trips.
When I met Brittany, she was already a senior in high school, says Dean. By that point, she already had an idea of what her goals were.
She has had support from her foster parents and always will, whether its on paper or in their hearts, Dean says.
Today, Denzel is self-sufficient, working two jobs including a position as a direct care worker at Petes Place, a Traverse City homeless shelter for teens.
Denzel also now lives with her two brothers and biological mother.
The relationship with my mom is a total 180, says Denzel. I guess we learned how to talk to each other. Before, there was just screaming, now were such good friends, we talk about everything.
The Festival of Tables will be held May 14 & 15 at the Hagerty Center, in Traverse City. The event features a variety of table displays, some of which are up for auction and raffle. Proceeds benefit Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan. Friday includes the Gala Preview and the (Not) Just for Men Tent, 6 p.m.; Saturday is the Ladies Luncheon, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. More information is available at festivaloftables.org.