"There once was this woman who was on drugs and I was her daughter. Now she's very sick and she lost me. This is why I'm choosing to be drug free."
This is the powerful opening sentence of Brianna Sotomayor's winning essay in Cottageville Elementary's 2016 Red Ribbon Week essay contest. Sotomayor's essay, "A Better Life," brought the national media spotlight to her small West Virginia town, by highlighting the causes and effects of the opioid epidemic.
Born to a drug-addict mother and a father entrenched in the prison system, the Brianna and her younger sister, Riley, have seen far more ugliness than beauty. By the age of eight, the girls moved between three foster homes and four schools, and both were understandably hesitant to trust anyone.
That is when Paul and Carrie Sotomayor brought them into their loving home and adopted them. With consistency and gentleness from the Sotomayors, the girls began to adapt, learn, and grow from the their experiences, and started to view their past in a pragmatic way.
"I love to write," Brianna said when interviewed about her award-winning essay. "I write stories all the time."
What makes the essay so extraordinary is her depth of understanding and her ability to articulate it in such simple way. She expresses her desire to be a gymnastics teacher, have a family, be healthy, and why using drugs would prevent her from achieving all of these things.
"If I grew up to be like my biological mom I would not get any of these things." Is this a pull quote? If not it needs attribution.
While the mindset and wisdom Brianna has attained is a direct result of her difficult upbringing, her bravery - and clarity - in what she wants for the future is nothing short of a miracle.
Brianna's adoptive parents, Paul and Carrie Sotomayor, had their own heartbreaks on their path to becoming foster, and eventually, adoptive parents.
Upon contemplating a third IUI procedure, after two failed attempts, Carrie clearly heard God telling her, "this is not how you will have children." They immediately began to explore different paths to adopt children.
At the time they were told it would be unlikely they could adopt an infant, so they started by opening their home to children as foster parents. Through Necco, Brianna and Riley were placed in their care.
Shortly after came one-year old Zeke and finally two-week old Gus. The Sotomayor family grew from no children to four children in under 3 years. "There is not a version of 'What to Expect When You're Expecting' for foster and adoptive parents," Carrie said. "You just have to be ready and willing to go with whatever comes your way."
When asked why foster care is important in West Virginia, Carrie answered, "drugs" without skipping a beat. Carrie also firmly believes attitudes are changing toward being a foster parent.
"[Adopting and fostering] is not just giving them a shot," Carrie said. "I can 100-percent say that it is saving their lives."
The cause of the opiate epidemic in Cottageville is often attributed to lost jobs, dangerous jobs, and being a low SES area, however the truly devastating and lifelong effects are on the children. They are displaced, malnourished, underdressed, and oftentimes abused.
"People are either fostering children or they are doing drugs," Carrie said.
Now 11 years old, Brianna is blossoming. She and Riley are home-schooled by their mom (Carrie has 11 years teaching experience in the local public school system). This allows for individual attention on each subject, giving them the opportunity not only to catch up, but to excel in academics.
The flexible schedule also allows for their busy home and church life, as well as time for gymnastics and music lessons. Perhaps, most importantly, it allows time for these children to form true connections.
A Better Life
By Brianna Sotomayor
There once was this woman who was on drugs and I was her daughter. Now she's very sick and she lost me. This is why I am choosing to grow up drug free. I want to be a gynastics teacher, have a family, and I want to be healthy.
First, I want to be a gymnastics teacher so I can teach others. Gymnastics is fun and I would like for others to enjoy it too. I want to be strong and I want others to be strong also. Hopefully, children will look up to me if I do a good job!
Next, I would like to have a family so I don't have to be lonely. If I am lonely, I will have to do everything by myself. Someday I want to have children and a husband to take care and love. I was blessed to be adopted last year. Hopefully, someday I can adopt some children too.
Lastly, I want to be healthy. My health is very important to me. If I do drugs, I could get brain damage, heart damage, or cancer. Drugs can make a person sleepy and lazy, too. I don't have to worry about this as much because I am going to be drug free!
In conclusion, those are the three reasons I want to grow up drug free. Being a gymnastics teacher, having a family, and my health are important to me. If I grow up to be like my biological mom, I would not get any of those things.