"We cannot always  
build the future for our youth, but  
we can build our youth for the future."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Melissa Liriano

I was born in Methuen, Massachusetts but lived in Lawrence. My parents had an unhealthy and violent marriage. When I was about 3 1/2 years old my mother became very ill and her prognosis was dim. It was decided that my younger brother and I would live with my father's family while my elder siblings would go live with my mother's family in NYC. I experienced some physical abuse at the hands of older step-cousins but eventually my mother recovered and we were all reunited briefly. My father's violence and alcoholism forced my maternal grandmother to step in. As a result, my siblings and I spent our childhoods shuttling between my mother in Lawrence and her family in NYC. The resentment that my mother's siblings felt towards my father was projected onto us, especially me, since I resembled him the most. The fact that I lacked the "desirable" Asian and European features they possessed made me a target of verbal abuse and eventual annihilation. By age 12 I was alienated by my mother's family and by 13 I was in the streets in Lawrence. I ended up in the juvenile penal system and foster care. I was released to my maternal grandmother's care and sent to NYC. A few months later, however, my mother's siblings urged my grandmother not to continue taking me in and I ended up back in the streets of Lawrence.

My grandmother was a vital force in my life and although other family members pressured her to give up on me she never turned her back. Her encouragement, their rejection, and my determination were my motivation to stay on track and make it to college. At 17 I was accepted to Middlebury College where I became a double major in Sociology and Chinese with chemistry minor. I became pregnant during my senior year and could not continue at Middlebury. I ended up in Boston as a single-mother and homeless. I was determined to make something out of life and with much hardship managed to graduate from UMass Boston magna a cum laude in chemistry. I am currently working in biomedical research for the biochemistry department at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Growing up in an abusive environment and living through the juvenile and foster care system, I know first-hand how the emotional and psychological trauma can easily lead young foster kids down the wrong path. I want to help provide the voice of reason I never had and the feeling that there are people out there who care and want to help. I want to help these young kids understand that they do have options and that it is ok to dream. I want to be a part of something that will encourage them to want more and not be afraid to go after it.

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