For almost all of Alea Stephenson’s life, the people she should have trusted have let her down the most and hurt her the most.
She was born to a teenage mother who was addicted to drugs and was imprisoned and then left.
Although Stephenson was soon adopted, life with her adoptive family was difficult. She said that she felt that she would never be fully accepted and that she was sometimes scared. As a teenager, she said she was abused by a stranger while living with members of a large family for a short time.
But Stevenson, 21, has long been her strongest defender. After her adoptive parents dumped her at age 15 and she decided to move with another extended family in Southern California, she instead decided to go to the social services office herself and go back to the foster system.
“I felt like being with them would prevent me from becoming the person I wanted to become,” she said.
Although she has faced great difficulties over the years with foster care, sometimes moving to different residential establishments across the state, Stevenson said that she also began to feel a personal freedom that she did not know about before.
“In fact, going into a foster family, I feel like I found myself, I found my voice and found some purpose. I can be who I am. I didn’t have people judging or criticizing me, ”she said.
She said that when she was adopted as a young man, an attorney was assigned to her to represent her in court, but he did not always respect her wishes.
Then Roxanne Romell, managing attorney at East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland, one day replaced Stephenson’s attorney.
Stevenson said Romell adopted the organisation’s motto that children need to be seen and heard, and they quickly hit it off. Romell replaced Stevenson’s previous attorney permanently.
“She shocked me when she came to my house and visited me,” Stevenson said. “She became my friend. When I needed help, she was always there. Even about things that didn’t end in the courtroom, she still gave me advice, guided me. “
The East Bay Children’s Law Office received a grant this year from Share the Spirit’s annual holiday campaign, which helps East Bay residents in need. Donations to the program will help support 56 non-profit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The grant will help the organization purchase holiday gifts for its young clients and restock books, toys, and gift cards for the children when they are placed in the homes.
Stevenson said the legal center was there for her after she was fired from her job at a theme park in the early days of the pandemic.
She was living in a temporary residency program focusing on healing from personal trauma and coping with alcohol abuse when her therapist recommended that she get an emotional support animal.
Even though she received proper documentation for the French Bulldog she ultimately chose, her housing administrator tried to stop her from keeping the animal by threatening to evict.
But Romell came to the rescue.
“She took control of the situation,” Stevenson said. While attending the meetings on Stephenson’s behalf, Romell made sure that the dog, Lil Mama, stayed and the young woman kept her home.
“If I didn’t have it then and (Romell) didn’t help me protect me and help me hear my voice, I don’t know where I would be,” Stevenson said. “She didn’t just seem like a lawyer to me – she seemed like a friend to me, someone who supported me.”
Her positive experiences inspired Stevenson to help others going through the foster parenting system.
She is now a youth advocate for Alameda County. And she volunteers at children’s law firms on a newly formed youth advisory board that polls the organization’s roughly 1,300 foster youths.
“Young people need to be able to feel the way I do with my lawyer,” Stevenson said. “They must have that connection.”
Regan Bradley-Brown, staff attorney on the advisory board, said the group’s goal is to find out where the organization “does a great job of representing our youth, and where we can do better and listen to their input to ensure they have a voice. increased and strengthened. “
She said that having Stephenson on board, who just left her foster home when she turned 21, is a boon for everyone as it provides a valuable personal experience.
“You won’t see a lot of foster youth coming back to participate,” Bradley-Brown said. “That she came back so quickly from the aging system to provide help really just shows her leadership, her passion, her drive.”
Stephenson said she will continue to work with youth and hopes to eventually launch her own short-term therapy program for adolescents, planning to call it Fearless Residence.
“Making positive change where I can makes me feel like I’m returning to the community that saved me,” she said.
Share your spirit
The Bay Area News Group’s Share the Spirit Holiday Campaign brings relief, hope and opportunity to East Bay residents by funding non-profit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
How to give:
Submit a coupon with this story by mail or visit www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate.