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Ana Transcends Childhood of Violence to Start New Life

When Ana Cardenas was 8, someone put a gun in her hand and ordered her to patrol the family’s land. If she saw a trespasser, she was to shoot to kill.

Born into the Mexican Drug Cartel, the little girl was a “soldier,” expected to do her part to defend the family’s drug operation.

Ana was wounded several times by gunfire while on lookout. Her punishment for refusing to follow orders was being sexually assaulted or beaten.

During a family feud over land, Ana saw her uncle murder her father and other relatives. Ana, then 12, and her mother were banished from the family and sought refuge in the United States.

They started a new life in Arizona. But Ana’s mother was imprisoned on drug-related charges. A short time later, Ana moved to Omaha with her mother’s 45-year-old boyfriend, a drug dealer. It wasn’t long before Ana was using drugs regularly.

Not long after moving to Omaha, Ana was hospitalized because she was at risk for hurting herself. That’s when she first entered the child welfare system and was placed in a group home.

Ana continued to abuse drugs and ran away from the group home. She returned to the man who brought her to Omaha, and for nearly two years, they were on the run, with Ana working under an alias.

At age 17, Ana learned she was pregnant. The father was the drug dealer.

Ana stopped using drugs once she realized she was pregnant. Two months before her due date, she gave birth to a daughter, Evamari.

When Ana was admitted to the hospital to deliver her baby, she used her real name. The authorities were alerted and took her into custody. Ana was sent to a youth detention center for a month while Evamari was placed in foster care.

Even after all she’d been through, this was one of the lowest points in Ana’s life. She was a new mother but she wasn’t allowed to see her daughter for the first month of her life.
But hope was right around the corner.

In February, Ana was referred to Boys Town’s In-Home Family Services ®. She and Evamari were reunited and placed in an Omaha foster home together, where Ana began meeting with Sarah Koley, the supervisor of In-Home Family Services for Boys Town Nebraska/Iowa.

“Initially, Ana was very resistant to services,” said Sarah. “I had a very rocky beginning working with Ana.”

Fortunately, Ana became more determined than ever and began to accept Sarah’s help.

“Now Ana would ask me, ‘Okay Sarah, what can you teach me today?’” said Sarah. “She was a go-getter. Together, we worked through the donation center in Sarpy County and Essential Pregnancy Services to get a car seat, crib, baby food, diapers, clothing and toys, bathing items — everything the new foster home needed for a baby.”

With Ana making progress and fully committed to raising her daughter, Ana and Evamari continued the bonding that would strengthen their relationship.

Sarah also helped Ana learn the skills she needed to find employment, including improving her English. Ana, who had returned to school, significantly improved her classroom performance.

“Teachers reported that Ana was a delight to teach and one of their favorite students,” Sarah said. Ana’s new foster mom also reported that Ana was the ideal foster child.

“Ana is now substance free and is an incredible mother,” Sarah said. “She has graduated from high school and is looking for full-time employment. And she’s in the process of becoming a legal citizen. Her goal is to one day become a police officer.”

Because Ana and her foster mother had developed a strong bond, she and Evamari continue to live in her home, even though Ana has aged out of the system.

“I’m so impressed with Ana’s unbelievable progress given the grave circumstances of her upbringing,” Koley said. “The first time I heard her story, I just wanted to cry for her. She was so young and just trying to survive. Her story is one of true resilience. She was able to overcome trust issues with people and formal services and systems to build a great life for herself and Evamari.”

The stories provided about the children and families in our care are real. In some cases, names and details may be changed, and stock photos may be used, to protect their privacy and therapeutic interests.