Photo by Dakota Santiago for the New York Times
The first 13 years of Nakia Vassell’s life run through her mind like a series of numbers: the seven siblings with whom she spent her early years, the more than eight foster homes she lived in, and the many relatives’ households that she cycled through before she felt she had found stability.
At 24, Ms. Vassell is now in her final year at Queens College, where she is majoring in psychology. With her degree, she hopes to “help children like me,” she said.
Children, especially those in foster care, need additional support, she said in an interview on campus last month.
Ms. Vassell, who was born in the Bronx, sums up her time in foster care as a series of decisions — when to behave, when to leave, when to speak up, when to run away.
“Not all of the decisions were good decisions, but ultimately they led me to a place where I felt safe,” she said.
From ages 13 to 21, she lived in the same foster home, feeling that she had found safety and stability. But she did not make it easy for her new foster mother.
“I put her through hell,” Ms. Vassell recalled. “I wasn’t used to being treated good.”
After years of difficulty, Ms. Vassell said it was a high school psychologist who inspired her to help other children in need.
“That’s who I want to be, I want to be here, I want to help someone,” Ms. Vassell said. “When you don’t have someone you can relate to, especially if it’s someone you’re telling your life to, you’re just sitting there, and you’re O.K., but you don’t even know me, you don’t even know a little bit of what I’ve gone through.”
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