OGDEN -- Kaylla's desire is to play for the WNBA.
The 17-year-old high school senior hopes that with a bit more hard work she will make her high school's basketball team this year, then play for a college team, then on to the pros.
She also hopes to be adopted by her foster family soon. November is National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness about the adoption of children and teenagers from foster care, said Brenda Durtschi, area representative with the Utah Foster Care Foundation.
Kaylla and 16 other teenagers, who are living in foster families, along with about 200 caseworkers, foster parents, proctor parents and guardians ad litem, attended the Youth Mentor/Coaching Conference at the Old Methodist Church in Ogden on Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the Division of Child and Family Services Quality Improvement Committee and the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation.
Teenagers who end up in foster care arrive for many reasons, but primarily it is because of choices their parents made, said Kit Kounthong, a social worker with the Division of Child and Family Services.
"All they want is a family," Kounthong said. "They want to belong to something. They want somebody to go on vacations with, go fishing, go camping, or cry to when they have that meltdown at school."
The teenagers at the event are being trained as mentors for other teenagers who are placed in foster care. Kounthong said the mentoring group was formed last year "because of the high numbers of teenagers who are not obtaining permanency placements."
The featured speaker at the conference was Sam Bracken, author of "My Orange Duffel Bag," a book that chronicles the abuse he survived as a child and his journey to playing football at Georgia Tech. It touches on his life as a homeless teenager who managed to hold down a job, play high school football and maintain a 3.9 grade point average, thanks to the adults in his life who cared.
He said his journey to change came about because of the "7 Rules for the Road," which he shared at the conference. Those rules are desire, awareness, meaning, choice, love, change and gratitude. The orange duffel bag was what his mother gave him to take to a football camp when he was 14 years old. It traveled with him, carrying his few possessions, through high school and college.
As part of his presentation, the 17 teenagers were given orange duffel bags with laptops inside, as well as other items to help them with their education.
Bracken said his message to the teenagers are, "You can make it out. Environment doesn't determine your future."
Division of Child and Family Service officials requested that the last names of the teenagers in the program not be used in order to protect them.
Kaylla ended up in foster care 2 1/2 years ago after she was taken from her home because of her parents' drug addiction. Both of her parents have since passed away.
She spoke at the conference about "Desire," one of the seven rules of the road Bracken wrote about in his book.
"If I want to change I need to be motivated and have people in my life to support and help me," Kaylla said.
Her parents never read to her, so she struggles with reading, but she sees a turning point in her life. She is getting help at school, plus her foster parents help her read.
LesleeAnne, 14, has only been in foster care for a year. A 4.0 student, she said it's been a hard year. She's been in five foster homes and is now in a group home undergoing therapy for abuse.
"It's hard not being able to stay in just one home," LesleeAnne said.
For more information about becoming a foster parent or to adopt a foster child, go to www.utahfostercare.org or call, 801-392-1114.