Katherine O’Neal lived with an adopted father who molested her and a mother who eventually had a nervous breakdown and was in and out of mental health institutions.
That’s how she came to live at Vera Lloyd Presbyterian Family Services.
She was living with her mother and adopted father in Pine Bluff when she couldn’t keep her secret any longer. She told her mother that her adopted father abused her. Her mother was struggling with her own mental health challenges and couldn’t help her daughter.
Katherine came to Vera Lloyd after her mother was institutionalized. She completed 7th and 8th grade in Monticello. She fondly remembers her roommates, her house parents, the local drive-in movie theater, and, most of all, a campus-wide backpacking trip to Colorado.
She said the staff showed love in big and little ways.
“One time, I was upset because I was behind on my laundry and wasn’t able to move my clothes from the washer to the dryer at the right time,” she said. “One staff member was kind to put my clothes in the dryer for me so I had clean dry clothes the next day.”
“Gradually, I began to accept that I didn’t have control over my situation,” she said. “I thought it was all my fault because I told the truth. For a long time, I thought being taken from my family was my punishment.”
Katherine left Vera Lloyd just before her freshman year in high school. She and her mother moved to Missouri and lived with her adopted father for a few months. Her mother was in and out of hospitals, eventually diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. Her behavior was erratic, and frightening.
On Katherine’s very first date, her mother called the police with allegations that Katherine’s date, kidnapped her. When her date returned Katherine to her home, her mother physically attacked the young man. Katherine chose to re-enter foster care.
She was 14 when she met the man and woman she calls her parents. It took a long time, but she renewed her relationship with her mother.
She earned a degree in nursing and a graduate degree in counseling. She has worked as a psychiatric nurse and is a counselor at Missouri Girls Town, a nonprofit organization that provides individualized care to abused and neglected young women.
She credits her experience with inspiring her to work with other challenged youth. As she says, “ . . . I’ve been where the kids I work with are. My experiences motivated me to be more.”
Her adopted father died a few years ago. She said, “I had my peace with my relationship with him and everything that happened.”
Katherine has been married for 18 years to her husband, Larry. They have 24 grandchildren, almost all of whom live near them.
“I am grateful for Vera Lloyd. Being there gave me an opportunity to be a kid and to learn how to be a successful adult,” she said.