Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo’s wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and-alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness.
Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother’s retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for. With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to “cover her expenses.” When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world.
Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life. Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman’s journey to overcome her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.
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Author Shenandoah Chefalo – Plagued and embarrassed by her name (a humiliation enhanced by a nomadic childhood that made it impossible to build lasting relationships), Shenandoah Chefalo developed a tough skin at an early age. Along the way she learned to deal with disappointment, push through discomfort, overcome adversity, and accurately gauge people, qualities that have helped her to succeed.
After spending nearly 20 years as a Law Office Administrator, Shenandoah became unsettled by the ever-revolving door of the criminal justice system and set out to find a way to change it. She attended Coach U and became a certified life coach.
Working through that program, Shenandoah began to understand her childhood in a way she never had before. She began researching and learned that there are nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system each day in the United States. Out of those children, nearly 61% age out of the system without having a place to live; nearly 50% end up incarcerated within two years of aging out and almost 80% of people on death row are former foster alumni. These (and other statistics) made Shenandoah realize that she had to do something. She set out on a mission to tell her story and educate the general public about the grim realities of a life that she had always tried to hide. She believes that some of the grassroots solutions she offers in Garbage Bag Suitcase could change the lives of children and the landscape of the country.
Shenandoah Chefalo is a graduate of Michigan State University (holding a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science), a Core Essentials Graduate from Coach U, a Certified Law of Attraction Advanced Practitioner, a member of the National Speakers Association, and volunteers with several organizations locally, nationally and internationally.
Locally she is also much sought after for her advice and understanding of Social Media Marketing. Shenandoah Chefalo is also the author of an e-book entitled Setting Your Vision and Defining Your Goals and is currently working on another book called Hiking for Stillness.
My Review –
I was only supposed to read and review the first couple of chapters of Garbage Bag Suitcase. Once I began reading the book, I couldn’t put it down.
…the general process of foster care. I suddenly came face-to-face with the truth in a way I never had. Without much work, I soon discovered that less than 1% of foster children receive a four-year degree, and that out of the nearly 1.6 million people incarcerated in the various correctional institutions nationwide, 1.3 million had been in the foster care system, or 80%. I knew that the system wasn’t great and I knew that I had struggled, but I had never taken the time to understand how bad it was. Over 400,000 children in foster care are affected every year and the number is growing.
Despite all of the odds stacked against her, Shenandoah not only graduated high school but went on to complete college. Garbage Bag Suitcase will break your heart. It is her story, told truthfully and without pretense. What the story reveals is just how broken our society is and how we are not only neglecting our country’s children but helping, by ignoring the problem, to raise broken adults.
This book, and especially Part Two, is meant to be an honest and open discussion about areas that make foster children view the world a little differently…talk openly about possible solutions…impact a child’s life…if we do not come together to solve this problem, we will continue to have millions of children, now adults, who have never known love, safety or stability.
Once foster children age out of care, they are left alone to fend for themselves. No home, nowhere to go except the streets, and eventually more often than not, into the criminal justice system.
I was along in the house. I was four…my stuffed animals…my only friends. Little me with my stringy blonde curls, dressed in hand-me-downs collected from various charity organizations and garage sales. I hunkered down for my favorite time of the day, when Bill Cosby’s “Picture Pages” came on in the middle of Captain Kangaroo…
It’s amazing what one complement can do in a person’s life. This one compliment forever changed the way I looked at myself. His words stuck with me. “You’re special.” I would repeat them over and over in my mind, and replay the conversation for Love Bunny. In my bedroom at night, I would daydream about my life. I would confide in my friends (stuffed animals) about my desire to go to college. They all questioned college, kids from our neighborhood should feel lucky to just get a job, after all. But my determination grew to escape the low expectations that the world had set for me, that I had set for myself. These words…were the first positive recognition I had ever received.
Even when families on television tried to depict fighting, it seemed mild from what I had known, and in the end everyone did the right thing. The only way I thought I could get a happy ending was by rolling the dice with these complete strangers. (foster care) But that is a child’s mind. Everyone is wonderful, kind and caring. I assumed that families or couples who were taking in foster kids would be top-notch. Surely some who had gone through vigorous training, underwent state background checks, and had a case worker checking in on them regularly would be the greatest parents of all. What I hadn’t realized or taken into account was that the system is broken…I had one purpose I soon discovered, and that was to help pay the bills. I had become a paycheck…but this was the first time I became the source of revenue.
I had little support and got mixed messages. At some schools, teachers would tell me how talented or smart I was. At others, teachers pointed at me and said things like “Everyone here, maybe not you, goes to college.” Apparently this teacher thought that foster kids should find jobs instead of planning on college…why couldn’t I go? A stop in the counselor’s office to get some information confirmed my doubts. “People like you don’t go to college. They go to work, serving people like me.”
Ridicule and lack of support continue to haunt foster children long into adulthood if it ever goes away. They struggle with little to no self-esteem and lack of acceptance. They struggle with forgiveness – of themselves and of the system. So many foster children suffer from food issues, having never had enough growing up. They learn to give, but not receive. Foster children learn to blend into their surroundings, not wanting to admit to being in foster care.
Children in foster care are more likely to suffer from PTSD. Some are never diagnosed and others are given psychotropic medications. Shenandoah spouts off alarming statistics that should shake America to its core.
Lots of teens look forward to turning 18. It brings all the ideals of becoming an adult, living on your own and expanding your wings. When you turn the magical age of 18, as a foster child you are done. Out. On your own. No safety net. This is both beautiful and alarming. The beauty comes from thinking that you finally have freedom from the foster care system, getting to make your own decisions, not living under another stranger’s roof. What most teens seek, including those in the system, is the perceived freedom of adulthood…Days on my countdown clock continued to tick away. My foster parents had agreed to allow me to stay past my eighteenth birthday, which fell in the middle of my senior year, if I was still going to school full-time on course to graduate. That was at least a temporary solution, allowing me time to finish high school.
There are staggering statistics that need to be addressed. A mere 61% of foster children age out of care without a place to live, becoming homeless. Less than 50% of foster children complete high school or obtain a G.E.D. Out of these, less than 3% attend college and of the 3%, only 1% are expected to finish their degree.
“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” – Will Rogers
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis
Garbage Bag Suitcase is the story of Shenandoah Chefalo, a child who grew up in an abusive home and went into foster care hoping for a better life. Life isn’t always fair, yet she not only survived foster care but graduated from college. She beat the odds. Now, she is out to open America’s eyes on the child foster care system. I am giving this book five stars. It is a must read for everyone. Children are our future and we do not have the luxury of dumping this problem into someone else’s lap.
I will end with one more quote – “When we stop asking, “What is wrong with that person?” and instead start asking, “What has happened to that person?” we can begin to change outcomes for those who have suffered great losses.”
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My Organizing Tip of the Day – At the beginning of each month I check my calendar and purchase any birthday and anniversary cards for occasions coming up that month. It is a lot easier than running to the stationary store five or six times a month.