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Jeff Burks, 19, has gone from stealing food out of hunger to attending college and buying his dream car — a 2003 black Mustang. Burks, who was placed in a friend's residence after his mother's parental rights were severed, attends â€¨J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. He wants to study teaching, history or sports journalism after transferring to VCU.
We were extremely poor, and I lived with just my mom. My mom was schizophrenic. I would come home, and a lot of times she would not recognize me. At the age of 6 or 7, I was taking her money and going to the grocery store. I was the one who put the check in the mail for the rent. I was washing my own clothes — all while my mom was drinking or sleeping or overdosing on her medications.
Then I lived with my mom and my aunt and her five kids. We had about 10 people to a two-bedroom apartment. We ate maybe once a day, and sometimes we skipped meals. My cousins and I for years would go out to the grocery store and steal food because we were hungry. I barely went to school.
We moved from the city into Henrico County. Someone found out that we were living without electricity and water and without health care and called social services. They decided they would take the minors away, which was me and two of my cousins. I was 10 or 11.
Mentally, it was rough. When they took us to court, they said they were going to take us into foster care. My friend's grandmother had offered us a ride to court, and she stood up and said she was going to take us temporarily. Later, my friend's mom took full custody of us. Knowing the person a little bit helped, but it was extremely tough moving to a different situation. For a while, I was stubborn in my ways. I didn't want to change the way I dressed, the way I acted.
But I realized we were getting meals steadily, taking warm showers and going to see doctors if we were sick. I didn't know you could go to a doctor for a sinus infection; we were told to suck it up. I never ate three meals a day before the age of 10. For the first few years, I just stayed in my room, but then I realized my foster mom cared for me. She went through a lot of financial strain for me, and she just wanted the best for me. She set up a savings fund for me. I started feeling like part of the family. I am still living with them currently.
I feel like I was extremely lucky to be alive after what I went through. I can never thank my foster family enough, for everything they did for me. I am the first one in my family to go to college. I am not saying I live the perfect life, but this is heaven compared to what I was living in. I would love to be in a situation where I could help other people out who are in the situation I once was in. —As told to Bethany Emerson