We met Keatley Coniglio at a Christmas party. Keatley is a 17-year-old high school junior who plans to attend college and become a therapist. Articulate, well groomed and charming, he is one of those young men you expect will succeed in reaching his goals.
You would not guess his mother was a drug addict. When I asked about his father, his reply was, “He never knew me.”
Keatley has been in the foster care system since age 4, with the exception of his 10th year, which he describes as the “best year of his life.”
That was the year he lived with his grandmother who he remembers as kind, fair and good. He attended Yukon's Central Elementary and had Deanna Dixon for a teacher.
After his grandmother's death, he went back into the system.
I understand there are some fine foster homes, but that was not Keatley's experience. He lived in each for only a brief period and there were so many, he lost count.
Angry and emotionally out-of-control at age 12, Keatley was placed at White Fields — a long-term home for severely abused and neglected boys who are not candidates for adoption and have no options left except being institutionalized or hospitalized.
Founded in 2000 by Tom and Schree Ward, White Fields' mission is to provide love, stability, healing and guidance and empower the boys to become productive citizens.
Keatley and three other teenagers now live on the White Fields' campus with foster parents Jason and K'Lee Terrazas and their two young sons. “They treat me with respect and expect a lot from me, but that's OK, I can do it.” When I asked about his relationship with his three housemates, he said, “What we have in common is pain.”
He bristles when called an “at-risk” kid. “It feels like people assume I am bad. None of us are here because we are bad; we're here because of what was done to us. When I drove in the gate at White Fields I was broken, but now I have a home, a college education in my future and someday I want to return as a therapist to White Fields to help other boys like my self.”
To learn more about White Fields, go to www.whitefieldsok.com.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at email@example.com.