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Aging Out
My Story
David Griffin
Risa Bejarano
Daniella Anderson
Keely Lopez
Thomas Hudson

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Keely Lopez Bronx, NY

Keely Lopez was orphaned by age seven -- her father died of alcohol abuse in 1988 and her mother of AIDS in 1991 -- and she was passed around to different relatives before entering foster care when she was 16. At 20, she lived in a SILP, a Supervised Independent Living Program, and worked in a surburban Mount Kisco hospital, commuting five hours a day from the South Bronx.

Working in the hospital cafeteria
Keely working in the hospital cafeteria.

KEELY: I really didn't have a childhood. I had to grow up so fast. Every single day I think of the things that I went through, but that's not something that I dwell on. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me. I refuse to be on welfare because I grew up on welfare as a kid. I think I should I just do what I have to do and work. I just want to be going to school so I don't have to be working in a kitchen for the rest of my life. I want to have a degree and just make my life better.

For the past few years, the most reliable adult in Keely's life had been her independent living counselor, Phil Botticelli. As Keely approached her 21st birthday, he prepared her to move into an apartment of her own. Keely was scared to be moving out on her own but excited that she finally had her own lease. Phil was very happy for her achievement as well and encouraged her not to get discouraged when times got rough.
I didn't want to speak to him, but I noticed that he was always there so I always stuck with him.
Video of Keely discussing independent living

Independent living counselor Phil Botticelli
Independent living counselor Phil Botticelli

PHIL: Your own apartment. How do you like that? Take that lease and you could frame it. I don't know a lot of people who were out on their own at 20 years old, I mean really out on their own. No subsidy from parents, family. I really have to hand it to you, Keely.

Video of lease signing
Though Keely now had a trusting relationship with Phil, it took a very long time for her to trust him. Like many foster kids who have been abandoned by parents, by aunts, by uncles, by grandmothers, Keely was initially very skittish around Phil. When asked why she finally decided to trust him, she explained it was because, unlike many others, Phil kept coming back.
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