Foster child just wants an ordinary Christmas
BY CARLI TEPROFF
Rodquella ”Quella” Atkinson plays a mean game of Mancala, a contest of skill involving marbles. She loves to braid her dolls’ hair. And she admits she can eat anything in sight, especially if it’s sweet.
It was about a year ago that none of that was possible. The precocious 11-year-old’s brown eyes turned yellow with jaundice; her stomach bloated. Quella’s liver was failing, and she was given only two months to live.
But on Mother’s Day 2007 she received a new liver.
Her mother did not fare as well.
Though Quella’s health slowly improved, her home life deteriorated with her mom’s drug addiction. Along with three siblings, Quella was removed from her mother’s care and now lives in a foster home. She stuffed her clothes into two plastic bags — just enough for the day or two she expected to be gone.
”My mother got really sick,” said Quella.
One night soon turned into a year. But Quella — old enough to have a crush on ”Troy” from Disney’s High School Musical, but with enough childhood left to play with Dora the Explorer — kept up her hopes of going home.
Her mother, Lechant Smith, has since completed a one-year drug treatment program with The Village and likely will be reunited with her children in January.
”After everything Rodquella has endured, she wants nothing more than to feel like a normal kid this holiday season by opening wrapped gifts on Christmas morning,” wrote Elsie Morales, communications coordinator for the Voices For Children Foundation, which nominated Quella for The Miami Herald Wish Book.
Smith said she has a room waiting for Quella and would love to see it filled with “girly stuff.”
”It has been really rough on her,” Smith said. “I wish I could give her anything she wants.”
The home health aide said she has been working odd jobs, but has not yet found steady work. She said by the time she pays the bills, there is not much left for extras.
”She’s not the type of child who asks for everything in sight,” Smith said.
On a recent weeknight Quella sat on the couch playing Mancala by herself.
”I lost all the pieces,” she said, unphased that Mancala is a two-person game. “I always win this way.”
Sitting across the way was Dorothy Trimble, Quella’s foster mother.
”She is always doing for others,” Trimble said. “It would fill my heart to see others do for her.”
Quella said she can’t wait to go home to her mother and have her own room. The one thing she wishes for this Christmas is a computer so she can do her homework. And, yes, any High School Musical or Dora the Explorer toys.
She also dreams of going to college and becoming a surgeon, paying back those who helped her.
Rhonda Davis, Quella’s caseworker with the Department of Child and Families, said in the year she has known Quella she has never seen her mad.
”She is always smiling and trying to make others happy,” Davis said. “I can’t think of a more deserving child.”