by Eve Abrams
Raintree House provides quality services to adolescent females between the ages of 10 to 17 years old who are in need of a therapeutic treatment program. Raintree House offers more restrictions than a foster home, but less restrictions than a residential facility or hospital. Raintree operates in conjunction with the the Department of Children and Family Services.
“A lot of girls not used to being in foster care, but I’m used to it,” says Erica, who’s been in foster care for around a dozen years. “I don’t have a problem with saying: oh, I’m a foster child. I’m a foster child. What’s the problem with that?”
Erica is 17, and for the last nine months, she’s lived in a big house – she calls it a mansion – with other girls and a very supportive staff. Erica says her home, Raintree, doesn’t feel like a group home.
“I feel like a regular kid at a house.”
Cheyenne, who lives at Raintree with Erica pipes in: “I agree with what Erica’s saying because when I first got here, I was like: when I leave, I’m gonna be like: Yeah, I’m packing up my bags and I’m gone.”
Cheyenne is 15. She’s lived at Raintree for three years.
“It’s kinda like a family,” explains Cheyeen. “When Erica leaves, I’m a cut up. I’m gonna cry.”
“Like we can all fuss and fight, but like when we get together, we can have fun,” says Erica. “We forget that we just fuss. We still sisters. We’re not blood sisters, but we sisters at Raintree. And like Ms. Jo says, we are our sisters’ keeper.”
Ms. Jo is also Mama Jo, aka, Joakima Blanc, the program supervisor at Raintree.
“There is something positive in every girl,” declares Blanc. “And we try to bring that out more and more. We do things that ordinary facilities don’t do. We just came back from vacation.”
Which was on the beach in Alabama.
“Other group homes don’t go on vacations,” explains Cheyenne. “They don’t give children a chance to feel normal, to act like a child. And we had our own beach house and stuff. It was nice.”
Normal is a big word for Cheyenne and Erica, and they made sure I knew that’s how living at Raintree feels.
“In this group home, I’m older, they trust me,” says Erica. “I can go, I can walk, I can do things that a normal kid can do. I can do things like go to my high school football game or something like that. As far as the other group I couldn’t do that. I don’t know if it’s just like a feeling. Like you just feel normal. It’s just a feeling I feel. I know I feel normal because I have this. It’s normal. It’s like a life. It’s not like a group home, like a building with keys and doors and a staff watching you 24/7. It’s freedom. It really is.”
“It’s like a home,” Cheyenne adds. “It’s like another family you never had.”
“And the staff too,” pipes in Erica. “The staff is like some aunties and some grandmas. We have this one staff – this overnight staff and she’s like a grandma to us.”
Erica’s lived in foster homes, with parents and a few kids, but she says group homes, especially Raintree, are better.
“I feel like a group home is just like better because the staff can pay more attention to you. They have peers that’s around you that’s your age, that’s been going through what you’re going through. They have counselors that come and see you. They help you with coping skills.”
And also life skills like how to make a bed, wash clothes, and cook pancakes and eggs. (Cheyenne loves cooking breakfast.) Raintree has been around since 1926. It started as the protestant home for babies, and as the needs in the community changed, so did the services they offer. The sprawling home – or mansion, according to Erica – sits in the Garden District next to a huge tree, a rain tree, which is how this normal home got its name.