Sharing her blessings helped get her into college

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Did Better Together help a student get into the University of Florida? Maybe, in a way. Hanna Heflin wrote her college application essay about her experience as a Better Together volunteer. Truth be told, she didn’t need us. Hanna graduated top of her high school class with an associate degree in hand. She was a cheerleader and played tennis. In May, Better Together honored the Heflin family with Host Family of the Year. In the fall, Hanna plans to study medicine at UF. We are honored to be the subject of her essay and share it with you now. She was asked to “discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others”:

By Hanna Heflin
Hanna Heflin wrote about volunteering with Better Together for her college application essay.

I never realized how blessed I was until I started working with an organization called Better Together. This nonprofit company works with families in crisis to ensure that their kids do not go into the foster care system. They have a 98% success rate that they check every six months. Better Together relies on community volunteers called Family Advocates who work with the parents and Host Families to take care of the children for an abbreviated amount of time which can range from a week to six months while the parents find adequate jobs, learn to budget their money, save their paychecks, and find suitable housing for their families. During the entire process, the parents and children maintain constant communication and have weekly visits so that the children know that they are not abandoned. At the end of the hosting, the families are reunited in a celebration party and their life continues on with less stress because of the learned skills.

I have had the great opportunity to help host three families so far and have learned lessons from each family. With the first family, I learned to be patient with the process. My family hosted a 3-year-old boy who had trouble verbalizing what he needed. It took a lot of patience and work to get him to trust us and let his guard down because he and his mother had been living in a car for a month and a half before he came to live with us. By the time our hosting was over, he clung to me and would kiss my cheek all the time. We still see him because his mother made us the God-family.

Hanna Heflin graduated top of her high school class this year.

The second family we helped opened my eyes to see beyond my middle class world. The mother of the child had been shot while sitting on her porch and had no one to take care of her baby who was napping in the living room. The mother had aged out of the foster care system and had no family to call her own. We hosted the baby girl for five days while the mother recuperated from her gunshot wounds in the hospital. During this time we would take the baby to see her three times a day because she was still breastfeeding. Because the mother was a product of a broken system, she did not trust us and thought we were going to steal her baby so we were extra careful to make sure we kept in constant communication with her. When she was discharged, we had a gift for her and a clean, healthy baby.

The current children we are hosting have been the most challenging because it is teaching me to be a little less selfish. There are three kids this time. Their ages are 4, 2, and 7 months old. When I want to go hide in my room, they follow me and talk my ear off because they want to tell me about their day. The oldest one has the weight of the world on her shoulders because her mom has tasked her with “being in charge” of her brothers. She has so much anxiety that she is not smart enough because she can only count to 15 and that her parents can’t find her because she is lost. I remind her that she is not lost and that her parents know exactly where she is and that she is allowed to be a little kid. They remind me that I only have control over a small amount of things and that worrying isn’t going to help me. So when I tell the little girl to breathe in and breathe out because she “forgets how to breathe,” I’m really telling myself that too.

*Lightly edited for consistency with Better Together terminology.


Posted June 8, 2023

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