The time that Denise Boney ’13 spent in foster care as a child taught her what it means to be a family, how to take care of others, and why she shouldn’t judge people based on where they come from.
Vnette Boney has always looked out for her younger sister, Denise. She did so when they were small children growing up in a troubled home in Wilmington, N.C., when child protective services pulled them from their home and placed them in the foster care system, and when their biological mother gave up her parental rights. “Vnette was the one who took care of me during those tough times,” Denise says.
Though Denise is now a senior at Campbell University who graduates Dec. 14, Vnette is still looking out for her. She often calls to make sure Denise has everything she needs and that all is OK. “She still has that mindset, ‘I have to take care of my younger sibling no matter what is going on,’” Denise says.
From Vnette, who today is a medical assistant, Denise says she learned what it means to be dependable, what it means to take care of someone, and what it means to be a family. Those lessons -- and her interest in what goes on behind-the-scenes more so than the clinical side -- influenced her decision to pursue a career in healthcare management.
“I’ve always had a knack for taking care of someone, which I got from my sister,” Denise says. “You don’t have to know a person to take care of them and to show your love through what you do. That’s what health care gives you the chance to do.”
During her time at Campbell, Denise has been involved with a wide variety of student activities, including as a member and past president of the Gospel Choir, a member of the African American Studies Club, and a student worker with the Campbell Athletics marketing team. She and her sister also periodically speak at events and participate in public relations campaigns for the Methodist Home for Children, which oversaw their care when they were in the foster care system and when they were eventually adopted by their foster parents, Curnel and Mary Boney of Rose Hill, N.C.
“I think my experiences have opened my heart to respect others and understand that not everyone is given the same opportunities as you,” Denise says. “It also has helped me realize that I don’t have to know your name or know where you come from to be a person that can help change lives for the better.”
Denise talked with Campbell.edu about her childhood, working with Campbell Athletics, and what it means to be a family. The following is an edited transcript.
What was your experience in foster care like?
Vnette and I were brought into the foster care system on Dec. 11, 1997, when I was 5 and she was 7. People ask why I remember that date, and I say it’s because that’s the day that my life really changed and things turned for the better. We were placed with Curnel and Mary Boney. They are two of the most heartwarming, loving individuals that anyone could ask for. They have a son, Kendrick, of their own, and he has taken us under his wings as if we were there from the beginning. They were a breath of fresh air that we needed. They have been our backbone and our support system, and they still are to this day. They are my family, and my family is my heart.
When did you know they were your family?
I was in the third grade. It was in November, and I was in class. The assistant teacher changed my name tag on my desk and said, “You’re officially a Boney now.” My biological mom had decided to give up her rights. Within a few months the adoption process went through. Our parents talked to my sister and me about our names, and we decided that we thought it would be best to keep our last names (Whitaker) as our middle names and add our new last name so we would never forget where we came from.
What does family mean to you?
A family is a group of people who love you no matter your race, age, or gender and who is willing to do whatever it takes to make your life better for the future. And they show you the most love and compassion that anyone could ever dream of. That’s a family to me. Without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
How would you describe who you are?
I’m in process. I am better than the person I was yesterday and I’m aspiring to be more tomorrow than I am today. I’m one of those people who constantly wants to know more about what life can offer and how I can help others in the process. I also have a little bit of everybody in my family in me.
My sister loves to cook, and I've found in college I have an appreciation for cooking. My dad is the business person of the family. He constantly has something brewing in his mind. My mom, I think I’ve embodied her the most.
In what ways?
I have that mom and nurturing personality. On campus, some of the underclassmen look up to me as the older sister and I’ve actually had someone who called me “Mom.” It was also my mom who introduced me to gospel music. Her car stays on gospel music. She wanted to make sure that we knew where we came from and who is in charge of our lives.
Is gospel music still important to you?
Gospel music has the most meaning to me because, when you’re singing or listening to it, it’s one of those moments where you can get closer to God and reflect back to where He has brought you from and where He can take you in life.
You've been working with the Campbell Athletics marketing team this semester. How is that helping prepare you for a career in healthcare management?
This job has taught me to appreciate the background people. As a student you don’t realize all the hard work that goes into setting up the inflatables, handing out T-shirts, getting the football field ready, having a poster made, making sure everything is set up neatly and cleaned up. Making sure fans enjoy the game is what we do. What we do in athletics reminds me a lot of what the Methodist Home for Children has done for me.
What has the Methodist Home for Children done for you?
They changed my life. My sister and I have grown up with them, and they’ve been there with us throughout every part of our life. They are like that guardian angel that never leaves. They are the people that move things behind the scenes. You never realize how much work goes into placing a child, checking on a child, adopting a child, keeping up with a child. Like my parents, there are not enough words to say how much I am appreciative of them and how much I love them.
You and your sister speak at a lot of events for the Methodist Home for Children and talk to both people who have gone through the foster care system and those who have not. What do you say to those who have not been through foster care?
It’s one of those things in life that if you haven’t lived through it, you don’t truly understand it. Some people are used to having a mom and dad or a single-parent home, but it’s different than if you’re pulled out of that situation and placed in a total stranger’s home and you don’t know how long you will be there. Many people don’t realize just how many people are in foster care and how many are looking for homes. Every home is not the same, and every story doesn’t have the same ending, but we all can have a good ending if we have those who are willing to back us and help us.
And what do you say to the children and teens who are currently in foster care?
As I’ve always been taught, “It’s not about where you start, it’s about how you finish,” and “You can’t judge somebody based on where they came from.” It’s easy to spend all your time thinking about the things that should have been done and what shouldn’t have happened, but be grateful for the opportunities you have been given. God can take you through a lot if you allow Him to.
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Interview conducted by and edited by Cherry Crayton, Digital Content Coordinator
Photos by Bennett Scarborough