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Monday, March 31, 2008

Rule 1: This is a real family



By Amanda Howe
Special to the Register

The odds were definitely stacked against them.
New Haven brothers Tylore, Nathan and Tavist Dohna have “grown up” in the Department of Children and Families system, and are role models for what children in the system can be, said Renee Hoff, ombudsman at DCF.
Joseph Baxter, the boys’ social worker, said it isn’t hard to see why.
Tylore, 19, and a freshman at the University of Connecticut, is studying pre-med, and plans to become a doctor. He’s at UConn on a full ride through many scholarships. A family member who asked to be identified only by first her name, Trianna, said the scholarships were awarded to Tylore as a result of his academic achievements and because he is active in the community. He also scored a 1450 on his SAT.
Nathan, 17, is a junior at Career High School and says he has never wanted to be anything but an FBI agent. Nathan has already taken part in New Haven’s Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners and hopes to attend the University of New Haven for its criminal justice program.
Tavist, 15, a freshman at High School in the Community in New Haven, said he dreams of becoming an actor. He said he knew since the fifth grade that acting was for him. The second half of his school day is spent at Educational Center for the Arts.
Tavist has starred in plays at school such as “The Crucible,” in which he played main character, John Proctor, and “Romeo and Juliet,” for which he played Father Laurence (he chose not to play Romeo). Also, Tavist said he is helping to write a play that will compile all of the plays that have been done so far this year at ECA.
Life has not always been so full of promise for the brothers.
The siblings were placed in foster care when their mother’s rights were terminated and after their father was arrested. They have been in the same foster home since 2001.
But, if you ask the boys, or Trianna, they all will tell you that they do not live in a foster home: They live with their family.
Trianna said when she and her mother picked up the boys, one thing was evident.
“We didn’t consider this their foster family,” Trianna said. “At the end of the day, we are all family.”
The secret to the boys academic success and the success of a close-knit family is simple, they said: Support.
The brothers said some nights the entire family will stay in and play a board game, such as Monopoly. One a recent day, they all laughed as Trianna explained how everyone also must attend Tavist’s plays.
Trianna said that when the boys came through the front door, they were given two rules to live by.
“Don’t steal, and don’t lie,” Trianna said.
Tylore and his brothers laughed as he said that those two really are only the title of the rule book as there have been many more rules since then.
But, Tavist said, besides rules and the family support, another driving force behind doing well in school is the friendly competition that arises between the brothers.
“It’s a positive influence when you see someone get good grades on their report card,” Tavist said. “You see them get all of this praise and then you want that.”
Marie Cornigans, foster mother to the boys and many other children, and who recently earned her doctorate, said she would leave her grades on the table as they were mailed to her from Albertus Magnus College.
“I work, run a household, volunteer at church and went to school and was still able to earn mostly As. I don’t make the boys work because I earn the money. They earn the grades,” Cornigans said.
Hoff said she was amazed at how well the brothers have done, pointing out how easy it would have been to harbor angry feelings about their past and to have headed down the wrong path.
Trianna said she and her mother enforce rules about not being able to get out of family events because it is mandatory “that everyone must attend.”
“If they have a date that night, (they) better plan on bringing her,” Trianna said.
Also, the brothers are not permitted to sleep at anyone else’s house overnight, as this helps to keep potential negative influences out of their lives.
Cornigans said this is because she needs to know where the boys are at all times. They also are required to introduce her to the friends with whom they will be spending time.
The key to the boys being so successful and driven is easy, according to Cornigans: Spending time with the boys.
“I think a lot of parents have lost it there,” Cornigans said. “We do everything as a family. Most children won’t admit it, but they want that attention and they want boundaries.”
Hoff said that DCF needs to see more foster parents like the one that nurtures the Dohna brothers.
“They are just outstanding,” Baxter said of the family.

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