Former Mississippi foster care teen is on the road to success

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Sirayah Miller, left, smiles as she sits behind the wheel of her new car, as she talks with Sarah Dale Harmon, right, co-owner of the Ice & Vice frozen treat store in Madison, Mississippi on Friday, 20 August 2021. Miller, who is no longer in foster care, is the first recipient of a transportation grant offered to Ice & Vice employees. (Barbara Gauntt / The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

PA

As heavy water droplets fell at the end of an August afternoon, Sirayah Miller stood outside, eyes closed, oblivious to the rain.

Around her was a small group of women, including Sarah Dale Harmon, a longtime foster parent. Just around the corner was a black Toyota Prius with a red bow and fresh paint, new tires and a new radio.

Right before Miller opened his eyes, Harmon took her hands and shared how proud she was of Miller.

“You are loved by a lot of people, especially me,” Harmon said.

Miller screamed when she opened her eyes and saw the new (used) car, a reward for the former foster child’s hard work and her determination not to let circumstances dictate her life.

The Prius, the 18-year-old’s first car, will provide transport from her home to her work at the Ice & Vice ice cream shop in Madison and Holmes Community College, where she earns an associate’s degree in labor social. Miller hopes to someday help others in the foster care system.

“The kids who go through the system and go through what I’ve been through, I don’t want anybody to go through that,” Miller said. “I want to give back to the community.

COUPLE WANTED TO SUPPORT FOSTER CHILDREN

Sarah Dale and Justin Harmon had never thought of owning a business – let alone an ice cream shop – but they knew they wanted to help foster kids.

When an opportunity to turn a business into an environment to support foster children through jobs and life skills education, the Mississippi couple seized it.

When Sarah Dale Harmon learned that the Orange Leaf, 1022 US Highway 51, was for sale, she and her husband met the owner and bought the store, then did some renovations and renamed it Ice & Vice. The store serves frozen yogurt, ice cream and coffee. Caffeine is the “vice”.

Since opening in February, the Harmons have prioritized hiring young people into the foster care system, but Sarah Dale Harmon said they also had employees not logged into the system.

“One of the things that I realized is that even with the kids who are not in foster care, they all have their own difficulties, you know, at home or with family”, a- she declared. “It’s an environment where children are not ashamed to talk to each other about the reality of things.

Employees often have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, owners play a mentoring role, and everyone is treated like family.

Ice & Vice launched a transport grant to raise funds throughout the year to provide a car for an employee.

In partnership with Opportunity Passport of Mississippi Youth Voice, a paired financial education and savings program, Miller received the first scholarship on August 20.

“When she first started at the store she was a little calm, she had a hard time interacting with customers,” Harmon said.

Affectionately referred to as Riyah by others, when the former foster teen started working at Ice & Vice almost seven months ago, she was still dealing with events that had taken place in the foster care system for two years. reception.

Miller, from Hattiesburg, said she and her three sisters entered the foster care system in Jackson in 2020 when Child Protection Services became involved with her family after they were evicted from an apartment.

Miller said his mother moved them to Jackson in 2019 after leaving her abusive husband, Miller’s stepfather.

Miller said that was when the four sisters began to move around a lot – first staying in hotel rooms, then sleeping on the floor with strangers before being moved between. houses of family members.

In June 2020, Miller was taken into custody and living at Sunnybrook Children’s Home in Ridgeland, where she said she was promised a caring environment.

To her, the treatment the staff gave to the people they were caring for seemed controlling. She said it seemed they weren’t aware of the trauma the children had gone through before being placed there.

“It’s tough because we’re going through so much,” Miller said. “We didn’t ask for it. We are not asking for it.

When Miller first met Harmon and found out about Ice & Vice, things started to improve for the teenager.

“God gave me Mrs. Sarah and she changed my life,” Miller said, biting back tears. “And it was like she was ready to help me with so many things and I thank her everyday, because I wouldn’t be in that position, I wouldn’t mind what I’m doing now if I (was) stayed in Sunnybrook.

Harmon said she felt like she had known Miller for years, even though it had only been a few months. Meanwhile, Harmon said the teenager opened up while learning to take responsibility for her actions.

Miller learned to take constructive criticism and view it as a way to learn from mistakes. Miller said working in the store gave him the opportunity to find his voice.

“I felt like they wanted me to come back to life, like I could do something with my life,” she said. “When she told me my opinion mattered, all that stuff, I just felt like it was home.”

Miller’s personal growth, her initiative to take a financial literacy class with Mississippi Youth Voice, her early graduation from Ridgeland High School, and her acceptance into college are some of the reasons the Harmons chose her as their first. winner of a transport grant.

“The kids who go through the system and go through what I’ve been through, I don’t want anybody to go through that,” Miller said. “I want to give back to the community.


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