SAN FRANCISCO—It wasn’t until Regina Louise was 13 years old that she felt as though somebody loved her.
Abandoned by her parents, beaten by those who were supposed to care for her, she felt completely alone in the world. Unable to take the abuse any longer, the night before her 13th birthday Regina fled from the second-story window of the home where she was living and ran to the police.
Describing her feelings at the time, Regina said: “I felt like a throwaway—my parents didn’t want me, nobody wanted me. I wasn’t worth being cared for.”
Taken by the police to a children’s center in Martinez, California, she met a counselor named Jeanne who would ultimately change the course of her life.
“She (Jeanne) was the first person to call me ‘Sweetheart,’ or ‘Pumpkin.’ I came from harsh people—people who would throw a skillet at you to get you out of bed in the morning—so to have someone treat me so gently; it was very different from anything I’d experienced. For the first time in my life I could relax. Be free.”
After finding this love, Regina didn’t want to let it go. Thus began a two-year saga, by the end of which she had been placed in 30 different foster homes. She ran away from each one, trying to get back to Jeanne, the only person with whom she felt safe and loved.
“They would put me in these homes, but I already had someone who I loved, and who loved me.”
Jeanne attempted to adopt Regina—an effort that was denied by the courts. Regina believes it was because of race, because she is black and Jeanne is white. “Back then, social workers believed that black children needed to be with black caregivers,” she said.
“She went above and beyond for me, tried to adopt me, but it came down to color. Bureaucracy trumped love,” Regina said of the court’s devastating decision.
“After the court case, Jeanne was forced to leave me alone; told that if she kept in contact with me it would be detrimental to my development. For a long while I was very angry, had a lot of self-hate, turned away from God. I didn’t want to live.”
Forcibly separated from the only safe haven she’d ever known, her life spiraling toward destruction, Regina credits the memory of Jeanne’s love as the force that ultimately called her back to life. She made this promise to herself—no matter what happened, she would be the good person Jeanne believed her to be. She would work hard to become successful and one day find Jeanne to thank her for loving her.
“My whole life, I never felt I belonged anywhere; no one wanted me, I didn’t even want myself. But because of her, I held on. I worked hard to become a good person so I could find her and thank her for loving me. Thank her for believing in me when nobody else did. I wanted to make her proud.”
Regina attended college, and she eventually opened a very successful hair salon. She never forgot Jeanne, however, and looked for her regularly. However, years of disappointment from repeatedly failing to find Jeanne finally became too painful. She gave up the search.
In 2003, Regina’s acclaimed memoir “Somebody’s Someone” was published. A heart-wrenching read, the book chronicles her experiences in the foster care system. Though happy with the success of her book, Regina also suffered keenly from the longing to have someone feel proud of her.
And then it happened. Checking her email one day, Regina was stunned to see a letter from Jeanne. The subject heading read “I am so proud of you Sweetheart.”
“There is no way to describe the feeling when I saw that email. I was electrified.”
Shortly after they reconnected, Jeanne told Regina that she wanted to finish what they’d attempted all those years before; she wanted to legally adopt her. And so, close to 30 years after they were separated, Jeanne adopted Regina in the same court that originally denied the appeal.
“We were just making it official; I had claimed her as my mother all the way along. When we were reunited, I was 40 years old, and I’d never called anybody mommy, but I called her mommy. It was an unbelievable feeling—I wasn’t an orphan anymore.”
Regina’s success story contrasts sharply with the grim picture that statistics paint of the many children who age out of foster care at 18. With no one to turn to for guidance, they often do not get the help they need to complete high school, find employment or continued education opportunities, access health care, or find housing.
According to the Adoption and Foster Child Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY2014:
- 1 in 5 Foster Children are homeless after age 18.
- Only half are employed at 24.
- Less than 3 percent earn a college degree.
- 71 percent of young women are pregnant by 21.
- 1 in 4 experience PTSD.
Regina believes that helping foster children find meaningful, loving connections is the key to changing this. Now a motivational speaker and children’s rights advocate dedicated to foster care, Regina has devoted her life to this cause. Traveling across the country she shares her story, hoping to inspire others to action.
Her message is simple: “One person can change the life of a child. My story exemplifies that. I am the perfect example of what can happen when you love a child.”