He was placed in foster care with Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York when he was just a toddler, separated from his six siblings. He considers his first foster mother to be the only maternal figure he had, but then an aunt claimed him, reuniting him with all but two of his siblings. The children soon ended up back in foster care, and Raul bounced from foster home to foster home, constantly getting into fights at school. One foster mother physically abused him, but he never told his social worker.
“I always felt like I didn’t count so I should just keep quiet and not ask for help,” said Marrero.
He was eventually injured and sent to Little Flower’s Residential Treatment Center (RTC), where he lived in a cottage with other children and an adult caretaker who helped him address the trauma, conflict and frustration he had grown up with.
“Even though the other boys weren’t my blood,” said Marrero, “we lived together, we ate together, we slept under the same roof. I hadn’t had that sort of togetherness my whole life.”
It wasn’t the end of the road yet, though. He moved in with his aunt, a drug abuser who stole all the foster care checks, and turned to a life of crime where was obsessed with robbing people and selling drugs.
“At first it was just for things I needed, but then I wanted new clothes; I wanted to show off to my friends. I thought I was ‘the man,’ but really I was just setting myself up for a fall,” said Marrero.
He was arrested several times, but the biggest hit came at 16, when he was sentenced to six years in prison. That was his wakeup call. He has been steadily employed since 2003, is about to graduate from Nassau Community College with an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and will transfer to Queens College to pursue a degree in sociology or psychology.
He hopes to use his personal experiences to help kids who are going down the wrong path and want to turn their lives around.
“And that’s what I want foster kids today to know - that we all need help and you just have to figure out how to ask for it,” said Marrero. “It sounds so simple, but for a foster child dealing with being abandoned, it takes strength.”