BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A center for children in Brunswick helps abused, neglected or abandoned children and teens by giving them a fresh start and new hope.
Before Matthew Thrift, 18, became a confident adult, he was in a bit of a dark place.
"I went to go get on the bus and they told me I had to stay home for the day they were going to keep me home for the next week so the marks would all be gone," said Thrift.
Safe Harbor Children's Center in Brunswick helps children and teens who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Michelle Quesada
Thrift's mom passed away when he was a young child and then he says his father went to jail. Thrift and his sisters ended up in the foster care system, but his new home wasn't a safe haven.
"We were abused for about nine years and we finally got proof of it and took it to school," added Thrift.
Thrift says the last time he was beaten by his foster parents it was with an air compressor hose. The next day he says police showed up at the home. At 15-years-old, he was finally removed and taken to Safe Harbor Children's Center in Brunswick.
"I didn't trust anybody and I stayed in my room and didn't talk to anyone," said Thrift.
The center had at least a dozen other children and staff members who made every effort to pull him out of depression. Every time he got good grades in school, he was rewarded.
"Very slowly I opened up to him [staff member] and started playing around and stuff. He taught me how to play guitar," added Thrift.
"You get to see firsthand how their life is better, you get to see firsthand the positive," said Leslie Hartman, Executive Director of Safe Harbor Children's Center.
For 21 years the center has had its doors open for children who for some reason or another can't be with their families or don't work out in the foster care system, it's a temporary home for children from birth to 17 and even after 18.
When Thrift turned 18, he chose to stay in DFCS care and is now living with new foster parents, his best friend's parents. His sisters decided to go out on their own and become independent. Thrift says he wants to study criminal justice after Glynn Academy.
India Bailey is another local teenager who struggled through the foster care system.
"My parents didn't make the best choices," said Bailey.
"My dad was in prison and then while we were with my mom she was like, she drank and stuff like that. She wasn't mentally stable, able to take care of us."
A local teenager who grew up in the foster care system speaks about the toughest years in her life. Michelle Quesada
Bailey, her sister and two brothers moved in with an aunt in Camden County, Georgia, but when her aunt passed away, the siblings were separated.
"I lived in a foster home before I went to Safe Harbor and they weren't really, I didn't really like them and they really didn't like me," said Bailey.
She spent four months in the foster home before she was moved to Safe Harbor Children's Center.
"So many people say 'Oh, it's so sad, you hear a lot of awful stories' but we just see the hope," said Hartman.
At Safe Harbor, Bailey became herself again. She hung up her posters of Justin Bieber on the walls of her room and got along with her roommates.
"Everybody got treated equally and everybody was like brothers and sisters," added Bailey.
She lived at Safe Harbor for a year-and-a-half and was reunited with her brothers and sisters under the care of an aunt and uncle in Jacksonville, Fla.
"It was really hard knowing that they were all separated, not any of them together," said Fatina Hathcock, Bailey's aunt.
Bailey started doing better in school and even got a perfect score on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) exam. She says she's glad to be home.
"It's like they're my family and I enjoy living here because they treat us like we're their children," added Bailey.
The Department of Children and Families is always asking more parents to foster a child. First for you, to become a foster parent you have to go through a few steps:
*attend an orientation
*complete 20 to 30 hours of foster parent training
*go through a child abuse and criminal background check
*participate in a home inspection
*participate in a home study
To learn more information, click here.