Callie Thornton
BEDFORD HILLS — On the day the government took them away, 5-year-old Tanya Cooper and her little brother had just eaten all they had — some butter stolen by the acting mother of the home, their 7-year-old sister.

Because there was no pattern to their mother's drug binge disappearances — sometimes it lasted days, sometimes longer — there was no way to know whether she was gone for good.

So the older sister did something she had never done before. She left her siblings alone and went next door to call Child Protective Services.

"She said (to us) 'These people who are coming to the door are not going to hurt us or anything, but we have to do what they say,' " Cooper remembers her sister saying. " 'You guys are hungry and I don't know what to do.' "

The life that followed in the foster care system was a saga of struggle and structure for Cooper, who felt blessed to be in a home in Bedford Hills where she was cared for, even though she was raped by two foster brothers in that home for years.

She found by modeling in Paris that she could escape the anger she developed as a teenager, only to have the rage resurface when she became a mother herself at 23.

Finally, through therapy, higher education, faith and friends, the light came on in Cooper's life.
"There is no point going through anything you went through if you can't say that you have helped someone or changed someone's life," Cooper said.

And so, at age 45, with the death last summer of her dear younger brother, Robert, still stinging, Cooper is trying to make that difference.

She maintains two blogs — one for ex-foster kids who have aged out of the system and one for teenagers who are getting ready to be on their own.
She is working on a book that is part memoir, part self-help about the lessons she learned as a survivor and the keys to coming out of the system strong.

And in May, to kick off National Foster Care Month, she will be a featured speaker at a foster care conference in Cleveland along with rap pioneer Darryl "DMC" McDaniels.  More of ths story

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