One month ago Thursday, family and friends gathered to sing on what would have been Erica Faith Truman’s 16th birthday.
Yet Erica’s older sister Natalle Truman did not voice surprise.
Who was Erica Truman and how did she end up here?
“That’s one thing I gave my child, she’s very independent,” said Erica’s mother Tabatha McGuire after working tirelessly the next weekend, scrubbing cars to raise money for Erica’s funeral.
McGuire said Erica was incredibly smart and rarely took no for an answer.
“She was our wild crazy child, she just loved to explore, and loved to just be herself,” said McGuire.
But with that independent spirit, came stress.
“Erica has run away, we’ve known where she was, we’ve had communication where she was,” explained McGuire.
One of Erica’s sisters Candice Deets said “the more rules that we gave here, the more we were fearful that she wouldn’t let us in.”
“She’d come home and then she would leave, she’d come home and then she would leave, but she had her home,” emphasized McGuire.
Instead of continuing to go to West High School, Erica ended up spending more and more of her time in Oildale, on North Chester Avenue.
About four months ago, Erica met Kay Popejoy, known as “Mama Kay,” because she looks after youth on the street.
“I just take them under my wing and make sure that they eat that day or they make sure that I eat that day,” explained Mama Kay Popejoy.
Popejoy and Erica became attached at the hip.
“She just took to me, and I kept her with me…she was like the little flea on my back,” said Popejoy.
In the area, Erica was known as fun size, for her small spunkiness.
“I didn’t even know she had family, I didn’t even know she was 15 until the day before she passed away,” said Popejoy.
But the matriarch explained the reality of what faced Erica on the streets.
“[Prostitution, drugs] pedophiles, you know with the girls, with the kids I’m constantly running older guys off around the kids you know and it’s just not a lifestyle,” explained Popejoy, who lives with guilt about that Saturday night.
“I started looking for her and my friend Rick came up to me and said ‘Kay that was fun size! That was Erica!’ And I went like ‘No,'” she said wiping tears from her eyes.
For Erica’s mother, faith keeps her afloat.
“Now she is in heaven. We’re not worrying about where she is, we’re not worrying about every time we hear an ambulance it’s Erica or a siren or a knock on the door,” said McGuire.
“There’s so many kids out here, so many and it seems like more and more they’re coming by the day,” observed Popejoy.
“I want more help for parents in this community. It’s not the poorer it’s not the richer, its the parents that have kids that don’t want to listen,” pleaded McGuire.
Tom Corson is the Executive Director at the Kern County Network for Children, and hears stories like this all too often.
“What I say is just don’t ever give up. I’ve seen youth that have gone from dealing with substance abuse to homelessness and other things that have turned their whole lives around. And it’s because the parent didn’t stop…banking on the fact that this kid is resilient and can make change,” said Corson, who emphasized there are resources out there for parents.
“You can start with Community Action Partnership’s 211. It’s a system, you dial 211 they go through a litany of kinds of services you’re looking for and they will link you. There are other programs through the Superintendent of Schools like the Parent Project. It’s a 10-12 week course that actually is made for parents that are struggling with their teenage child,” further explained Corson.
For a list of local resources for families dealing with similar situations, visit the sites below:
You can find more information on the Parent Project by visiting kernparentproject.org
You can find more information on the Kern Network for Children by visiting kern.org/kcnc/
You can find more information on the Kern Project 180 by visiting kernproject180.org
You can find more information on Truancy Reduction Advice for Parents by visiting kernstayinschool.org
You can find a wide variety of county resources offered by Kern County Department of Human Services by visiting KCDHS.org
McGuire called on all parents of Kern.
“I understand one night, take that kid out from the cold. I go and me and my younger kids we go feed the younger kids that we see on the street but then we tell them he look there’s more to life than this. You need to go home, you have a mom and a dad that loves you, that wants you home…and I just want all the parents everybody in the community has to get together; we’re Kern County,” said McGuire.