Tara still remembers that cold rainy morning—frantically searching for her coat, not wanting to be late for school. She also remembers the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she realized her mother had done it again. This time it was Tara’s coat she had sold to buy cocaine.
In a family of six girls, Tara Blake was the eldest. Early on, her role was well established as the hero, caregiver, protector. Somebody in the family had to carry the load—her mother was a single parent with a serious drug addiction, incapable of being a responsible parent or role model.
“We lived with my mother’s daily mood swings and a revolving door of men,” Tara recalled. “There was no trace of normalcy in our family—never mind ever sitting down for a meal together”.
Of course, none of this would ever be discussed outside or even inside the family. Instead of learning how to ask for help, Tara learned how to “keep up a front.” But she also managed to keep up her grades, in spite of the chaos.
When Tara was fourteen, she slipped under the age radar and took a job at a department store to earn money for clothes and food for her sisters. Everything had to be hidden from their mother. Even groceries would have to be eaten right away—packages and cans were opened as soon as she brought them home so her mother couldn’t return them for drug money. With nothing to compare it to, this lifestyle was simply the way things were.
In spite of her good grades and her strong will to survive and succeed, Tara started smoking pot and making poor choices. She ended up having her first baby at age seventeen, dropping out of high school and joining Job Corps, a national job training program for at risk youth.
Still unflappable and highly motivated, this teenager started learning a trade in concrete masonry. Tara took a lot of flack from her co workers—an under age Black single mom getting paid $17.50 an hour to work in concrete masonry? Who did she think she was?
Tara proved who she was, to herself and to everyone else, by graduating top of her class as shop foreman. But she didn’t follow through. She went looking for new challenges and with her increasing use of marijuana, she was losing her edge, her critical thinking skills, and her motivation.
At age twenty-two she was in another troubled relationship. Ignoring all the red flags and his heavy use of hard drugs, she got pregnant again. By the time she had four children through a series of abusive relationships, she was running out of hope of ever having a stable life.
The breaking point came when, while under the influence of marijuana, she lost her children to foster care. She finally began to seek help instead of denying that she needed any.
Tara spent several months in various drug rehabilitation treatment centers but still could not break the cycle. Then came that day she entered the women’s rehab center at [agency name]. It was the new beginning Tara had given up hoping for.
The drug use is over now and things have come back into focus for Tara, who is now working as a volunteer executive assistant for a half-way house. She has moved into a new Section 8 house with her four children. “My children are all doing well,” Tara said, “They are happy and healthy. And the best news is that my own mother is also happy and healthy … and drug free at last! I am so proud of her.”
Tara is still on welfare, but with the skills she is developing and the trust she is engendering among her peers and supervisors, she knows that welfare is only a temporary solution. “The right paying job is out there waiting to find me,” she said confidently. And with Tara’s buoyant spirit of joy and her strong will, it’s just a matter of time.