“If you’re blessed with someone to take care of you, it’s an honor to take that blessing and give it to someone else.”
It was a cold night in Aurora, Illinois, and 11-year-old Simone Pena stood outside her family’s apartment building, bereft and waiting.
The friction between Simone’s 13-year-old brother, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had reached a breaking point that evening. What began as an accidental fire started by an untended candle ended with the apartment building being evacuated, the police called, and Simone, her brother and 7-year-old sister getting kicked out of the house.
“I think the most disappointing thing was I had always been there for my mom and did whatever she said,” Simone remembers, wiping away tears. “So for her to say she was going to send us away was hurtful.”
Her father in prison, her mother’s back turned, Simone felt the weight of responsibility for her siblings fall onto her own young shoulders. “The only thing I could think of was keeping my sister safe,” she recalls, “and letting them know that everything was gonna be OK.”