My grandmother was very important in creating the person I am today,” Naomi Porter, 25, says during a break from her work as an AmeriCorps employee. “Before moving in with my grandmother at the age of 12, my life had been a mess. She gave me the love, structure and support I needed to overcome any challenges
I might face.”
Naomi has had her share of challenges. From the time she was born, until she went to live with her grandmother, she had lived a chaotic life that included three different stays in foster homes. “My sister and I entered foster care when we were very young because our mother had substance abuse issues and couldn’t find stable employment. Because of that, she basically neglected my sister and me,” Naomi explains. “Neighbors saw what was going on and called 911.”
By the time she entered the foster system for the four time, Naomi was inured to the pain of being uprooted. While foster care had not exactly become routine, it
had occurred enough times that she had no expectations except to be prepared for the worst.'
“When my sister and I showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep, she was somewhat a stranger to us,” Naomi recalls. “Because of my mother’s problems, we
hadn’t seen much of my grandmother. Even so, she never hesitated to take us in.”
Life at her grandmother’s was far different from anything Naomi or her sister had ever known. “Our biggest challenge was getting used to the amount of structure in
our grandmother’s home. We weren’t used to rules and chores, and didn’t even know about the basics, like making the bed and washing dishes. And we certainly weren’t used to someone being involved in school.”
“I rebelled some; didn’t do homework, and talked back. But my grandmother has a very strong personality; she was not bending. And even though I didn’t like it, I knew
I needed it. My grandmother was very important in creating the person I am today. She gave me a safe place to hang out and put everything back together. She helped
me become a balanced person and not engage in behavior that would affect me badly.”
“The blood connection shielded me from a lot of embarrassment during my teenage years. I didn’t have to worry about the stigma of not having a mother care for me and it helped me gain a greater sense of self. The obligation my grandmother felt toward me gave me a concept of what family is about.”
Today, Naomi works at The Belle Center, a nonprofit modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which works to help shape young people’s lives. Her current job is in
keeping with her future goals: she wants to be a college professor and would like to direct a nonprofit that serves young people. Naomi already holds an associate’s degree and is working toward a bachelor’s. Ultimately, she intends to get a master’s in business administration and public administration.
The concept of family has come full circle for Naomi. In February 2012, she moved back in with her grandmother who was injured in a three-car accident. Now it’s Naomi who serves as the nurturer and caregiver—a role she savors. “My grandmother is doing better now after a lot of physical therapy. She’s walking again. I plan to stay with her until I get married or she moves into assisted living. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!