Former Foster-Youth-Turned-Trauma-Buster Uses What She Learned to Empower Children
Winner of Foster Alumni, Foster Parent and Visionary Award
Helen Ramaglia suffered so deeply from a childhood of abuse that she became nonverbal, not a mute but afraid to speak. After remaking herself, the mother of four is speaking up. In fact, she won’t stop talking about Fostering SuperStars, the nonprofit she founded to educate people about the needs of foster children.
Through Fostering SuperStars, in 2015 Ramaglia is launching a new “Trauma Tour” that includes a team of “Trauma Busters,” other former foster youth who learned how to cope and become successful adults. They will travel the country giving workshops for free at group homes and juvenile detention centers, providing tools they believe can help children deal with their pain.
“We need to (teach) our foster children, at-risk youth, how to recognize their own trauma, how to take ownership of their own trauma and plant seeds to, at some point, control their own trauma, to get them to take ownership of their own life right now,” Ramaglia, 53, said, noting that providing children with coping skills can be an alternative to medicating them.
The Trauma Busters are a new addition to Fostering SuperStars (previously Ramaglia focused on training foster parents). The team includes Ramaglia’s “Tallie-The Trauma Queen” and other fictional characters with storylines based on the corresponding Trauma Buster’s life using “events and lessons learned to overcome and become successful,” Ramaglia said.
“Around this is a whole cartoon series that I’m hoping to bring to present the life-skill program in the books with the cartoons as characters. I try to make it fun and empowering,” she said.
As part of the tour, Ramaglia will include the premise of “ROC,” which stands for Recognize It, Own It, Control it.”
At times when Ramaglia shares her story with children, she has them write something painful they experienced such as being “misunderstood” or “not being loved” on a rock that she then buries in the “Garden of Pain.”
“The children write their greatest pain, greatest struggle or greatest fear on a rock. I plant it in my backyard and I replace it with a blanket of hugs from my women’s group … at our church, and I wrap it around them,” Ramaglia said. “It’s a blanket of hugs.”
Ramaglia, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., develops everything for Fostering SuperStars, from the workbooks to the content on the website.
She hopes to give away 1,000 survival kits in 2015 as part of her tour. Included with a blanket will be a life-skill manual and journal, set of Garden of Pain postcards, Trauma ROC bracelet, a pocket rock and other goodies.
“When I go to one place I want to touch the foster parents, the kids, and society; bring them together,” said Ramaglia, who founded the nonprofit in 2010.
Esther Pilgrim, a Trauma Buster who Ramaglia brought on to co-found Fostering SuperStars, thinks Ramaglia is doing an amazing job at just that. Pilgrim nominated Ramaglia for a Successful Survivor Award for passionately sharing her heart to help foster children.
“Helen's remarkable story inspires and uplifts all who hear it. In her testimony, Helen openly shares about what it is like to live 40 (plus) years with the debilitating effects of abuse and the foster care system,” Pilgrim said, noting Ramaglia teaches how “to stay strong and courageous no matter what.”
Ramaglia also has her own motivational speaking business, Ramaglia Enterprises. Speaking up to empower others is a far cry from the little girl who was afraid to speak.
“They still call it nonverbal,” Ramaglia said. “I spoke when I had to speak. I was a stutterer and my father slapped me every time I spoke and stuttered. I was too afraid. He was a violent alcoholic.”
Ramaglia recalls her father “slapping around” her mother, who suffered from severe headaches and died from a brain hemorrhage “due to blows to and about the head and face area for an extended length of time” when Ramaglia was three years old, she said. Years later, when Ramaglia was 11 years old, she and one of her sisters and their brother were placed in a juvenile detention hall for several months.
“They locked us up to keep us safe from our dad,” she said.
Later separated from her siblings, Ramaglia lived in foster homes until she got married, three weeks before she was supposed to age out. That relationship ended and she was a single mother.
When Ramaglia was in her early thirties, she became a victim of domestic violence with a man who threatened her son and tried to strangle her, she said.
“I wanted better for my children and had been working towards it,” Ramaglia said. Writing her own story was a result of putting her life back together.
“I always felt God wanted me to do something with those memories. I finally got it on paper so I could let it go. I found myself getting rid of the negative. I was trying to get all the bad out and I was filling myself out with goodness,” she said.
Ramaglia put the story away for years, thinking she didn’t have time and that she first wanted to remake herself into the person she wanted to become. She then bought a self-help book to learn how to do it. Through this process, Ramaglia came up with the idea for her trauma skills program.
“We get stuck in survival mode and don’t realize there is a whole lot more and we need to take responsibility for our own destiny. Children have parents who teach this throughout their lives; foster children and at-risk children don’t,” she said.
At 45 years old, Ramaglia remarried. She and her husband John decided they wanted to foster-to-adopt children. (Her older children Christopher and Tanya are successful adults and have started families of their own.)
The couple adopted brothers Jimmy, 8, and Adrian, 9, when the boys were toddlers. The brothers have fetal alcohol syndrome.
“They walked into our home and they were so traumatized that it re-traumatized me, trying to parent this sibling group that was just a mess,” Ramaglia said. “They’d been in a bad foster home and one was underweight and they were malnourished.”
Ramaglia, whose former career was as an executive assistant, found her voice through fighting for the needs of her youngest children.
“Even though it was tough, I had to face a lot of things with them and myself and feeling emotions I had never felt before in my life,” Ramaglia said. “In bringing this family group together and learning what was going on with them that helped me figure out what was going on with me.”
In 2012, Ramaglia’s book “From Foster to Fabulous: One Little Girl's Journey Through Abuse, Foster Care, Aging Out, and Life Beyond” was published by InspiringVoices.
She and her husband are the primary funders of Fostering SuperStars.
“We have committed our tithing to this cause,” Ramaglia said, noting the nonprofit is growing fast and that they could use help with funding.
Ramaglia estimates the total cost of visiting five group homes with her team of three is $25,000 to $35,000, if the homes provide the food. This includes traveling and the kits.
The nonprofit is 100 percent volunteer-ran, she said, because she remembers how it felt to feel everyone in her life was being paid to be there.
Ramaglia prefers to keep the events on the small side, with not more than 75 attendees, because she wants to “keep it personal.”
She thinks it’s paramount for foster youth to see people like them who became successful and are not “untouchable.”
“The kids need the hope and healing of seeing a former foster come out and talk,” Ramaglia said, noting that when this happens it means a lot to the children. “They want so bad to be on the other side.”