Frekeria is a 10-year-old who was asked to grow up too quickly.
Her biological mother was a drug abuser who often left Frekeria alone with her younger brother Ronald, 4, her guardian said. Frekeria and Ronald were both born with cocaine in their systems, their therapist said. When Ronald was an infant, Frekeria would feed and care for her crying younger brother. She would change his diaper and rock him to sleep.
"She was only a kid, but she was the mom," said Lasheka Ceaser, now the legal guardian for Frekeria and Ronald.
This Christmas, Frekeria gets to be a girl again.
She is in a loving home, with her brother and Ceaser's two biological children, Jernazia 14, and Darnazia, 12. There's a Christmas tree in the living room, with presents underneath. She's doing well in school, and was looking forward to playing with "her associates" during the holiday break.
Ceaser tells her to use the word associates, not friends, Frekeria explains, because it's hard to know if other people are really friends.
With help from Henderson Behavioral Health's therapists and family programs, Frekeria and Ronald are learning to trust again and adjust to life in a new home. Henderson Behavorial Health Henderson, South Florida's oldest and largest not-for-profit mental health provider, is supported by the Sun Sentinel Children's Fund a McCormick Foundation Fund, which helps South Florida nonprofit organizations that help local families and children in need.
"The holidays are exciting, because we can celebrate and have fun," Frekeria said.
She ticks off a list of the food she'll help prepare: ham, turkey, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, red velvet cake.
It's a far cry from her earlier life.
"When I first got Frekeria, her two front teeth were knocked out," Ceaser said. "Her first birthday with me, she had never had a cake before. She didn't want to eat it. She said, 'This is my cake,' and just wanted to look at it."
Ceaser said the children's mother is her cousin and a former roommate, and she knew something was off when she would disappear for days. The mother voluntarily gave up the kids, Ceaser said, and sometimes speaks to Frekeria.
Ceaser and her partner, Tammy Williams, moved to a single-family home in Pompano Beach earlier this year. Ceaser first got helped by Henderson when she lived in Palm Beach County, and her oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD.
"Frekeria and her brother have made tremendous strides," said Arielle Handler, the Henderson therapist who has been working with the family.
Ronald used to act out violently, Handler said, but his behavior has improved markedly this year with therapy.
And Frekeria, who used to be moody and a loner, has come out of her shell, Handler and Ceaser said.
Frekeria said she wants to go to college. "I want to be a police woman," she said. "Because then I can catch bad people."
Ceaser and Hanlder said it took awhile, but Frekeria has stopped being overly protective of her younger brother.
"She was always doing mother stuff — and didn't want anyone else to do it," Ceaser said.
Handler, the therapist, said: "She has such a connection to her brother. She's always been a hero to him. But she had to learn how to be a kid again."
As she danced in front of the tree and played with her little brother, Frekeria seemed to be doing just fine. Then she passed out holiday cards to Handler and other Henderson workers who stopped by.
"Thank you for all of your hard work," she wrote.
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Henderson Behavorial Health, South Florida's oldest and largest not-for-profit mental health provider, helps thousands of kids with its youth and family programs. To contact Henderson, call 954-777-1624 or go to hendersonbehavioralhealth.org.
How to donate to the Sun Sentinel Children's Fund
For every family or person featured in Sun Sentinel Children's Fund stories, there are many more in need. The program spotlighted here, Henderson Behavorial Health, wants to help more of them through the Children's Fund.
Your gift to the Sun Sentinel Children's Fund will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar by the McCormick Foundation, expanding the reach your gift will make. In addition, all administrative expenses are paid by the Sun Sentinel and the McCormick Foundation.
To contribute, go to SunSentinelchildrensfund.org or call 800-519-2480.