Calling Cassandra Pappas, 17, wise beyond her years would be an understatement.
A recent graduate of Largo High School, last summer marked the second time Cassandra had been admitted into the foster care system.
The first time, she was only two years old.
Given similar circumstances, many of her peers would be angry – and perhaps rightfully so. But Cassandra has managed to manifest her feelings into a different emotion entirely:
“If I could say something to other foster kids, it would be to never give up,” said Cassandra. “No matter what you’re going through. Everyone always says it’s going to get better. With me, I never believed that was true – until I was in the system long enough to really realize all of the supports that are there for you.
“Your darkest nights can have the brightest stars – I write that in my music all the time.”
One month before her 18th birthday, Cassandra completed a three day summer camp hosted by Eckerd Kids and the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Immediately emerging as a leader in the group, Cassandra took the experience to heart. She listened to the other campers – the majority of whom were significantly younger than her – and asked questions to the agency representatives.
“Cassandra was always very mature,” said Allison Kuhlman, an executive assistant at Eckerd Kids and camp counselor. “She was a leader right off the bat. She was super positive, which made the kids gravitate towards her. It was pretty remarkable.”
Currently, Cassandra lives in a group home, a situation she admits isn’t always ideal. To decompress, she often takes to penning lyrics, raps and poems. In an original song entitled “We both,” she writes:
I always hear it’ll get better
But just remember
scars fade not heal
Your life’s like an automobile
You’re in control of the steering wheel
“No one’s situation is the same,” said Cassandra in reference to the message behind many of her lyrics.
“Everyone’s been through so much, you can’t compare it. Someone may have been through something 10 times worse then you have, but it doesn’t matter. In the end everyone is going through something, and you need to know how to respect that. You need to know how to help them through it.”
Her understanding nature has served her well as she transitioned between living situations. Moving forward, it’s a virtue she intends to foster.
In addition to working at Subway, Cassandra will be enrolling at Hillsborough Community College for the fall semester. Ultimately, she says her goal is to help other foster children and their families by becoming a case manager.
“I’ve always wanted to help people in my life someway, somehow, and to give back to the world all that’s its given to me,” said Cassandra. “What better way than this?”
Get to know Cassandra:
How have you enjoyed camp?
The camp was fun – it’s been a great experience spending time with other kids in foster care. It makes a big difference, knowing that you’re not alone in the system, and that other kids are out there at all different ages. You can actually relate to them.
What were your feelings going into camp?
The first couple of days I felt like the adults really wanted to help the kids, and to share that there are fun things to do even if you’re in the system. It’s not all about all the bad things you’ve been through – but how to make good things come out of it.
Did you have a favorite outing during camp?
I’m not much of a girly girl, but getting my nails done was nice.
What lessons will you take away from this experience?
Being in the system impacts the decisions you make in the future, especially in terms of what career you want. I feel like at this camp for the past three days I’ve heard a lot of kids say they want to be case managers. Yesterday I got to spend time at the Eckerd Kids office, and now I’m really thinking about it. I’ve always wanted to help people in my life some way, somehow, and give back to the world all that’s it’s given to me.