Monica Weisedel moved almost every year of her childhood. Her mother suffered from mental illness and drug addiction, and she would inexplicably disappear for hours or days. When Weisedel was 15, a Social Services worker showed up and hollered for her and her young sister to grab their things and go.
"It was a horrible experience," she said, recounting all the screaming and crying.
Weisedel is one of thousands of young people in Erie County living in foster care, one voice among many wishing children had more local options when they are forced to leave home through no fault of their own.
Her cascading red hair and pale complexion stand in stark contrast with her black attire and dark tattoos that run down her right forearm. One tattoo, of a scorpion, alludes to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, the moral of which is that creatures hardwired for viciousness can't change their nature.
She's connects a lot with that unpleasant tale.
Weisedel said she loved her mother but couldn't regularly count on her for food or protection. She described her relationship with her stepfather, and later her grandmother, as stormy and miserable affairs. She learned not to trust anybody.
"I'm not justifying being an angry little brat," said Weisedel, now 19. "But I certainly can forgive myself for being angry at all."
At first, after leaving home, she and her sister stayed with her grandmother, but Weisedel eventually worked with her school counselors to move into a group home for teenage girls.
Weisedel was adamant that she didn't want to live in a foster home because she once visited a good friend who was living in a foster home.
"The one foster home I was in had 10 to 15 kids at any given time," she said. "There were locks on the refrigerator and cabinets."
Her friend had her belongings stolen by other foster children and had no access to food outside of mealtimes. It was clear to Weisedel the foster parents were only housing kids for the money.
"These kids were miserable, angry children because of what they were going through," Weisedel said. "That's why I was so terrified of foster homes."
It took a while for her to realize there are good foster homes, she said, and the community needs more of them.
"There's not enough good people willing to go through what it takes to be a foster parent," she said.
Social Services administrators say they hope more adults step forward and consider how they can give children better lives.
Weisedel hopes for the same.
"A lot of people feel because I'm in foster care that I'm a damaged person, that I'm a bad person," she said, sitting at the common room dining table under a sign that read, "Live Laugh Love."
Weisedel pointed out that half of all foster children don't graduate from high school, and only about 10 percent go to college. A lot of these kids don't think they can make it, she said, because so many other adults have given up on them.
"It makes me feel sick," she said. "I guarantee if these kids felt they were supported, they wouldn't fail the way they do."
As for Weisedel, she's finally happy. She's decided to stay in her group home until she's 21, when she ages out. She works at J.C. Penney. She took the job planning to save money to buy a car she would need to get to and from college.
"I guess I need to follow through on that because I went out and bought a car," she said, having just come back from the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a brown, 2003 Pontiac Montana minivan that was "a great deal."
She hopes other foster children like her get the help they need to find their path forward, too.
"If we give them the support they need now," she said, "we can't say in the future, 'I didn't do enough.' "