Manhattan High School junior finds family goes deeper than genetics

Taylor Bullock, Staff Writer

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In a time where hurt is so widespread, compassion can be found in the hearts of those who can understand another’s suffering enough to relieve it. For Manhattan High School junior Austin Gonzalez, that person was Lisa Andrijeski.

Andrijeski works at MHS as head of the kitchen and has another son Brandon Nelson, who is a freshman at MHS. Gonzales and Andrijeski met when Gonzales was 16, as he was originally just a friend of her son before she took him in.

“We just loved him from the very beginning,” Andrijeski said. “He brings a lot of laughter and it’s really cool because from the beginning Brandon, my other son, and Austin were like brothers.”

Gonzales was in foster care for 10 years and has been in a different foster home almost each year, before Andrijeski took him in.

“Foster care for me is like a roller-coaster,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been in good homes and I’ve been in bad homes.”

Despite the hardships of jumping home to home, Gonzalez uses his experience in the system to reflect on how it shaped him into who he is today.

“[Foster care] affects everyone differently,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve had to mature faster and at [times] people say I’m not mature at all because I have spurts when everyone wants to be a kid sometimes, and for foster kids we never really got that chance to grow up ‘normal.’”

Even with moments where foster kids believe the system has failed them, Gonzalez speaks up to advocate it.

“Most foster kids in foster care grow up thinking people don’t want them and most of the time they think ‘oh I’m just here because they [receive] money for me,’ Gonzalez said. “The thing about foster care is they try the best they can with what they have [and] they don’t get that much funding.”

Gonzalez tries to take the heat off the system with speaking up for their hard work, even if others can’t see it.

“They really do try to make up for what you weren’t given,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez wants to use what he’s been through to help other kids understand the system, whether in foster care or not.

“For Kayak, were really trying to push members to go around to schools and talk about this because this is a very important thing,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not outcasts, we don’t have anything wrong with us, it’s just that we live with strangers, yes, but we’re normal just like everyone else. We’re just trying to get through life.”

Andrijeski had never adopted children or fostered but had thought of it in the past, as she was a CASA worker, but was hesitant due to her personal obstacles at the moment.

“My other son, Brandon, is autistic so raising an autistic child is very challenging,” Andrijeski said. “I never felt like I was in the position where I could give that part of myself to another child.”

For Andrijeski, Gonzalez brought something new and well needed to her family, especially her other son.

“They hate each other but they love each other and it’s funny because they’ll get in their normal teenage spats, but they can’t stay may at each other for more than just a few minutes,” Andrijeski said. “So, he’s brought that to the house, a companion for my son [and] a new dynamic.”

Though it may have seemed the weight of the world was heavy on his shoulders at one point, Gonzalez is taking it all in stride and planning to move on to bigger things after high school. He is preparing to further his education at Washburn Technical college with culinary arts.

“I enjoy cooking something that not only looks good, but that when somebody eats it they get that piece of mind, that ‘this is so good’,” Gonzalez said. “I love bringing people joy.”

Even though Gonzalez has plans to leave Manhattan to pursue college, both parties have no intentions on losing touch.

“He’ll probably want to get out and stretch his wings, because I’m a little protective and he’s not used to that,” Andrijeski said. “ He’s promised that if he does do that, that he’ll stay in touch and come [home] on holidays and stuff just like a ‘normal’ kid would.”

Like most kids, there’s lots Gonzalez hasn’t experienced and wants to see for himself. But, one thing for sure is that he’s never been as at peace as he is with Andrijeski and the rest of their now family.

“It’s been great. They already accept me as family, which is why I’m so happy,” Gonzalez said. “I feel extremely comfortable. I’ve never felt more comfortable in life and I can honestly say that.”

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Manhattan High School junior finds family goes deeper than genetics