WASHINGTON - Ivis Flanagan became a foster child when she was 16 years old. She faced abuse and stints in psychiatric hospitals. But Flanagan survived those troubled years and spent this summer here as an intern for the Children's Defend Fund.
Now 22, Flanagan earned the internship through the Orphan Foundation of America and its InternAmerica program.
The program included 22 participants. All spent significant portions of their lives in foster care, and some have been on their own since they were 18.
Flanagan wants to be an elementary school teacher after she graduates from Northern Kentucky University. She said she wants to work in a low-income school district helping children with self-esteem issues and academic requirements.
"I think that everything I've done, the good, the bad and the ugly has pushed me to where I am now and who I am now," Flanagan said. "No matter how bad a situation was, no matter how much I can sit here and wish it never happened, I can look at every situation in my life and pinpoint why it was a good thing in my life or how it has given me strength."
The interns worked for six weeks in congressional offices, corporations and nonprofit organizations. The foundation also supplied housing at Catholic University, meals and travel.
"I've been working at Children's Defense Fund and specifically working on intern recruitment and curriculum development," Flanagan said.
CDF Director of Youth Leadership Development Kadika Magee praised Flanagan's work ethic and strength.
"Ivis is one of the most diligent people I've come into contact with lately," Magee said. "I have nothing but the highest expectations for her. She's indeed going to be one of those people that is not only going to change not only local communities, but the nation as well."
Flanagan's route to the Orphan Foundation began when she was 7 and her father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She remembers the hospital's gray marble floors and white walls under bright lights.
When she took her dad back for post-cancer treatment two months ago, Flanagan's arms filled with goose bumps.
"I went in there, and it hadn't changed over the years, but I got in that building and I just started shaking," she said. "It isn't scary looking, it's just a normal hospital, but that hospital makes me shake."
When she was 12, her parents divorced, and Flanagan was admitted to a mental health facility because of physical abuse from someone outside the family.
After her release, she constantly fought with her mother for four years. On more than one occasion, the fighting escalated to physical altercations, she said. One night, after a physical fight with her mother, Flanagan ran away. She was placed back in a mental health facility by the government, and her mother signed over custody to the state, which placed her in foster care.
Flanagan said her first foster family wasn't a good home.
Her foster parents were devout Pentecostals, a religion she didn't like. She lashed out by screaming, hitting her head against the wall and cutting her arms with razors. In her next foster home, Flanagan began to change.
She started caring about her school work and graduated from high school on time. But Flanagan began to regress at the University of Cincinnati.
During her freshman year, she began dating a man who was abusive. She failed because she rarely went to class.
Friends convinced Flanagan to leave her boyfriend and go to Northern Kentucky, where she met Bryan Carver. Carver, 20, has dated Flanagan for almost two years.
Flanagan lives with her father and serves as his caretaker. She's also a full-time student, majoring in elementary education with a math emphasis.
She stays in contact with her mother, but Flanagan said she'd like a better relationship with her.
Lynn Davis, manager of partnership development at OFA, said Flanagan, as well as the other 21 interns in this year's program, loved spending time together.
"I was amazed how quickly they bonded as a group," Davis said. "They look out for each other and it's really nice to see."
The interns returned home Saturday. The OFA specifically focuses on the support, education and workforce development of children growing up in foster care.
Recipients are independent students who do not receive family support and are solely responsible for higher education.