Sondra Lawson is wearing construction boots and steering the wheel of a Bobcat backhoe in a parking lot. Her job is to use the backhoe and other heavy equipment to flatten walls and clear away bricks and mortar to make room for something new.
“I really just used my hurt and anger in a more productive way. I really like tearing up land and seeing it rebuilt into a different company because I feel like that represents the cycle of my life,” said Lawson, a 31-year-old wife and mom from Portsmouth, Ohio.
Twenty years ago, few could have imagined Sondra in this role - or perhaps even alive.
Sondra’s childhood was complicated. There was abuse, incarceration and group homes, followed by more abuse. Eventually, there was placement with a loving foster family with the help of Necco, which provides foster care and adoption services to families in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Georgia.
Sondra’s “tear down-rebuild” analogy is powerful. It is a testimony to the power of people having faith in her and providing her with the experiences that can lead to a positive, long-term outcome. Necco Founder Beau Necco became a father-figure to Sondra and helped to change her life, she said. She wanted to make him proud, and eventually served as a foster parent herself.
“One of Necco’s corporate culture principles is self-actualization."
With self-actualization comes re-education. Sondra is an amazing success story because she has self-actualized in a way that is very difficult for some people who have come out of a situation like hers,” said Beau, who is also the CEO of the company that bears his last name. “I am just so very proud of her,” he added.
Having lived in multiple facilities and homes as a foster child, Sondra has firsthand knowledge about how foster kids can be successful once they are on their own in an unfamiliar world. Training needs to start within a year of their aging out of the system, she said. Kids who have been in the system need to learn “adulting skills,” Sondra said.
Necco provides such training through its Independent Living program, which helps young adults age 16 to 21 become productive contributors to society. That means getting a Social Security number. That means making a budget and a grocery list with enough food that will feed a family over a period of time. It can also mean getting a bank account, even learning to do laundry -- things than can fall by the wayside in a structured, systemic environment.
“It’s about re-educating kids,” said Beau. “Good habits lead to good outcomes. Bad habits lead to bad outcomes.”
From foster child to foster parent
Sondra really enjoys mentoring teenagers, which are among the most difficult to place into foster care. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, half of the 437,465 children in foster care were 7.8 years old and above on Sept. 30, 2016, the latest data available. Fifty-five percent of those children had a case goal of reunification with their parent or a caregiver.
Sondra paid extra attention to the young women she encountered in foster care. Drawing from her own life, she talked candidly about all subjects: “I slowed down with my girls, because I have personal experience. I would ask them ‘Why do you want to have sex? You need to focus on how to separate laundry,’” she said.
Meanwhile, as Sondra continues to tear down walls at work, her advice can serve as a bridge for those who are currently in the foster care system as they prepare to enter the real world.
“Don’t feel defeated. Opportunity is there, and your future depends on you. Getting a good job is especially important. It’s your ticket out.”
For more information on how to become a foster parent or learn more about adoption, visit Necco Services. At Necco, we believe that every kid is just one caring adult away from living a more productive life. Join us!
Necco is a close-knit, culture driven, private therapeutic organization that takes pride in building families. Building families can mean several different things; such as forever-family through adoption or a temporary family to provide a safe and loving environment to a child until they are able to return home.
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