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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2012

Rotary honors teens in foster care who have succeeded despite struggles

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Amber Tomaso, a teenager managing to care for her baby while going to school and living in a group home, will be recognized on May 16 by the Rotary of Albany Youth Recognition Program.

Tomaso is one of six local youths who will be recognized at the Rotary’s 28th annual award ceremony at Wolfert’s Roost.

Guilderland resident Brian Barr, a Rotary member, founded the Albany Youth Recognition Program 28 years ago.

“The purpose is to reach into the foster-care population, recognizing that this is a population that is often overlooked in terms of acknowledgement and proper recognition,” said Barr. “The young people cared for in these seasoned agencies do not come by their experiences unfazed.”

Tomaso, 15, was placed in the foster care system last October, as mandated by the court.

“When I was living at home I was getting into a lot of trouble, and I was on probation,” Tomaso told The Enterprise this week. “When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to turn my life around, but it was too late, and I got sent here.”

She currently lives at the Heery Center for Young Families, a residential group home owned by Community Maternity Services, in Albany. Her three-month-old son, Jeremiah, lives there with her.

“It is hard living with a bunch of other girls and kids; I go to school and, when I get home, I go to group sessions on parenting, independent living, and relationships,” Tomaso said. The girls living at the home do open up to each other, share things, and help each other, which has been nice, she said.

Before coming to live at the Heery Center, Tomaso said she was doing badly in school, but now she is on the honor roll at Myers Middle School, in Albany.

“When I found out I was pregnant, it was a pretty big deal to me, and I decided I wanted to change my life around for myself and my son. I decided I wanted to do better, get an education, and, by the time I turn 18, I want to be able to move out and get our own place,” said Tomaso.

After she has lived at the Heery Center for one year, she will be allowed to go back home, to Hudson, to live with her parents and go to high school. Her parents, she said, are 100-percent supportive of her, and their grandson, but the baby’s father is not involved in his life.

“It was really hard going to school and hearing people talking,” said Tomaso, about the school she attended before moving to Albany. “I miss my friends, but I had to say goodbye to most of them, because I don’t want to follow the path they are on.”

When she returns to Hudson, she plans to finish high school and “pay no mind” to the people who judge her.

“Having my son will keep me on the right track,” Tomaso said. “I love my son to death and he is the most important thing to me. It has been hard, but we will get through this.”

Tomaso wants to become a registered nurse after graduating from high school.

Being recognized by the Rotary for her hard work and the hurdles she has overcome makes Tomaso feel good.

“I know I’m doing well, and I am glad people are realizing it, and not just saying I’m another stupid teenager who got pregnant,” Tomaso said. “I want to be a good mom, and getting recognized by the Rotary means a lot to me; it makes me really happy.”

“This is a moment for their families and friends to see them as achievers, accomplishers, and people of due note,” said Barr, about the luncheon for the youth.

After attending 27 of these luncheons, Barr described what can be seen happening at each of them.

“These young people begin to see themselves as doers,” he said.

“I’m excited,” Tomaso concluded. “I look forward to meeting new people at the luncheon; meeting other people like me has been really nice.

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