"STEP is like my family. You'll never see a group of kids like us so close to each other."
Maci is one of hundreds of children and youth who have gone through CSC-funded Maximizing Out of School Time, Youth FORCE and STEP (SUPPORTED TRAINING & EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM) programs offered through the Center for Hearing and Communication.
"I've had a really difficult journey growing up. After my father's death when I was two, my mother neglected me. I was born hearing but because my mother neglected me, I became hard of hearing. My mother became very depressed after the loss of my father and used alcohol and drugs to deal with the pain. She had a boyfriend who was abusive. I never liked being inside because they fought every day. I never got attention growing up.
I never knew the feeling of love and never trusted anybody. I was a "bad child" because I didn't know any better. I didn't have any friends because I never had a stable home. I was bullied all the time everywhere I went because I had horrible hygiene, raggedy clothes, and because of the loss of my hearing. So, I would skip school, had really bad grades and stayed outside all day. I basically raised myself. The only positive thing I had in my life was this program with the Center for Hearing and Communication that I joined when I was about 6 years old in the summer.
I finally knew the feeling of fitting in. I realized that there are other people like me and I didn't feel left out. I went through the elementary, middle school in Youth Force programs and now in high school in STEP (Supported Training & Employment Program). When I was 11 my mother passed away and I moved in with my aunt's family, which was difficult because I had never been with them before. The only real family I had were those in the programs I attended.
Here I am today. STEP is like my family. You'll never see a group of kids like us so close to each other. They motivated me to do better in school. Now I'm not bullied, I have straight A's and B's. I look forward to learn how to drive and get a job to earn my own money and gain employability skills and give back to the community, and learn to be independent.
I want to be successful and not follow in mother's footsteps. I want to become a motivational speaker and help change lives like this program has changed mine. This program showed me that it's important to give back to the community and give love because that's what they gave me. They taught me how to be a proper young lady. They taught me life skills. I was very shy and through this show we put together I became outgoing and friendly.
I don't know where I would be today without this program. But there are challenges: for example, bus transportation. What most people don't realize is that people live all over the place and it's hard to have parents or guardians pick us up. Some don't even have a car and live in the far reaches of the county. That's why CHC is so great, and I love bragging about the program: it even helps us with transportation.
Speaking of fun stuff, I LOVE coming here. They take us to waterparks, take us for performances in Orlando and so much more. And that is great because some of us have nothing to do on weekends so the only time we feel safe is here.
This program is my family and we would highly appreciate if this program stays open. It is a program that is open to everybody regardless of who you are."