ARKANSAS, USA — Valerie turns 17 years old in two days. For her, it'll be another birthday spent in Arkansas foster care.
That's the unfortunate reality for these children. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas -- all days spent in the system.
"So you want me to put my hands in the middle?" Valerie asked.
It's not everyday you get a one-on-one lesson from a talented Arkansas artist, but Valerie got to spend a day learning from the best -- Arkansas Arts Center Ceramics Instructor Lauren Bellamy.
"It looks good, though. This is the best I've ever done," Valerie said.
Valerie loves the attention, but the feel of clay? Not so much.
"Like mashed potatoes -- like you were putting your hand in mashed potatoes, hard mashed potatoes. It was weird," she explained.
Regardless, Valerie said working with it and seeing the final product was "pretty cool."
Pretty cool... for a teenage foster child who's been forced to deal with everything that isn't.
"I'm very behind because I moved facility after facility because I can't find a home to stay in. So that causes me to be behind in school," she explained.
"At my age, I'm supposed to be in 11th grade, but because I'm so far behind and I lack credits, I'm in the 9th grade," she added.
But Valerie refuses to let it get her down. From clay to the museum shop, she forgets her troubles for a moment. An anonymous donor gave her a $100 to spend.
"So, I got some markers and some chalk pastels and a sketch book, so I can sketch. I don't really like drawing, but I like using pastels and like painting," Valerie said.
The only thing not available just yet -- a forever family.
"I'm sorry," she said, apologizing for her tears. "So, I don't know. Family is just there for me when I need the most and someone I can rely on besides myself when I'm in hard times."
The hard times are now. Valerie desperately needs a family.
"I'm a good person and I have a good heart. I'm not perfect, no one is, but I try to be the best I can be," she added.
She has plans to be a nurse -- to help others, to forget what she thinks about now every night when she falls asleep.
"Everything gets better in time. I just think about all the people, great people, who went through so much struggle and so many things to let them down," Valerie said. "Eventually, they rose up from that and became something. And I'm just waiting on my time."
The Arts Center was so generous. From the artist, Lauren Bellamy, to the anonymous donor who picked up the tab at the museum store, Valerie was so thankful.
And so are we.
Remember, there are no costs associated with adopting a child in state foster care. If you're looking to adopt, you can visit fosterarkansas.org from more information.