When Kevelyn Duarte entered the foster care system at 14 years old, her entire life was upended. Just getting to school each day was a challenge.
Yet Duarte fought to get back on track and last week graduated on time with her class at Mountain View High School.
“I want to do something with my life,” she said. “I don’t want to just give up because a really tragic moment happened.”
However, her optimistic outlook didn’t come easily. Duarte was originally put into foster care after her father tried to sexually abuse her.
She was placed at a group house in Mountain View that mainly housed runaways and youth with serious problems. During her time there, she said she saw kids cutting themselves, doing drugs and getting in fights. The police were there frequently.
“It was pretty hard,” Duarte said. “Imagine having to live through that and then having to get up every morning to go to school.”
To make matters worse, Duarte said she was only given two hours of unsupervised time each day and had to follow a curfew and bedtime. If she didn’t comply, the rules would become even more restrictive.
“I felt like I was the one getting punished for something that I didn’t do,” she said.
All of the upheaval in her life made her feel angry and alone. She said she wasn’t getting good grades and didn’t feel comfortable at school.
Duarte saw a mental health therapist at school, Josune Sullivan, who helped her work through what had happened to her. According to Sullivan, Duarte was very resilient and committed to “becoming the person she wanted to be.”
“She has endured everything that you can imagine and more, and she’s just a fighter – never gave up,” Sullivan said.
When she turned 16, Duarte was transferred to an independent living program. For a time, she lived in a house in Santa Clara with other teenagers who were in the program. That meant a long commute, typically by bus, to school each day.
Ultimately, the independent living program was moved to the house in Mountain View where the original group home had been. Being there again was difficult for Duarte, who said she had flashbacks to everything she had witnessed there.
Now that Duarte is 18, she is living on her own in an apartment in Campbell. She is taking part in the extended foster care program and receives a monthly stipend. She also works at Chuck E. Cheese.
Duarte plans to study criminal justice at De Anza College before transferring to Sacramento State. Ultimately, she hopes to become a police officer, because she said it is important that everyone receives equal access to justice.
“All the stuff I’ve been through, it’s what pushed me to want to be a police officer, because I think everybody is worthy of something, everybody deserves protection,” she said.
Soon after meeting Duarte for the first time, Sullivan said it was clear there was something special about her. Sullivan saw someone who was strong and willing to fight for what she believed in.
“Whatever success means for her and whatever happiness means for her, she’s definitely going to achieve it,” Sullivan said of Duarte. “I have no doubts about her. She’s really going to be whoever she wants to be.”