With a laser-focus on helping foster children get adopted, Regina Calcaterra has rebounded after her short run against long-time New York State Sen. Ken LaValle last year.
After months in the political spotlight, the 44-year-old attorney and New Suffolk resident, who grew up in poverty in an abusive family environment, is now spearheading an effort to get the word out about You Gotta Believe, a Coney-Island based organization dedicated to helping foster children on Long Island become adopted into permanent homes before they age out of the county's system at 18 or 21— and become homeless.
“When you do that, you not only impact the child’s life, but you impact society as well,” she said. “Because when a kid is not adopted and ages out of foster care, most of them end up homeless or incarcerated or on welfare, so that has a substantial drain on our communities as well.”
Calcaterra, who had to withdraw from the state senatorial race last August after a court ruled that she was ineligible because she did not meet a five-year consecutive residency requirement, has been on the board of directors at You Gotta Believe since 2006. With more time on her hands to dedicated to the organization, she said she hopes to open an office in Riverhead to help more kids in need in the East End.
“All the board members were either foster parents or foster children,” she said. “Currently there are about 1,000 kids a year that age out of the foster system in New York and only about 50 get adopted. Our goal is to get at least 250 kids adopted a year.”
Calcaterra emancipated herself from her own mother — an abuser of alcohol and drugs who was raising five children by herself — at the age of 14 in 1981. She spent the next four years in the foster care system in order to stay at Centereach High School, study up and go to college.
“My goal was to go to college, which was unforeseen in any foster child,” she said. “Back then, there was no path of support for a foster child to go to college and no money available. I had to figure out how to do it on my own or else I was going to be homeless.”
If it weren’t for the support of her two older sisters who documented the physical and psychological abuse going on at the hands of their mother, who died in 1997 at 57, Calcaterra would have never made it out, she said.
“My mother would have been incarcerated in this day and age, but back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, people in the foster care system looked the other way — their goal was to keep the family together,” she said. “I was very disciplined because I needed to be in order to do what I was doing, but I wasn’t used to being disciplined, I wasn’t used to having parents and a curfew and rules. I also wasn’t used to having my own bed and a shower and a refrigerator that worked and had food in it.”
Calcaterra was never adopted after she aged out of the foster care system at 21. So when she finally attended the State University of New York at New Paltz and then Seton Hall University School of Law, she was entirely independent or entirely on her own.
“I know what it’s like to be homeless at a very young age and try to struggle to try and find your place in the world,” she said. “Most kids in foster care are just results of bad parenting — they’re not bad kids. They’re just looking for a place to put their head down for the rest of their lives.”
Calcaterra, who does not have children herself but has had a boyfriend for several years, continues to work as a corporate attorney and enjoy the peaceful sights and sounds of New Suffolk.
And she's not turning her back on the possibility of another go in a political race.
"I think public office is a very noble goal," she said. "For someone who was raised by Suffolk County, I understand the role that our government plays in our lives. I also understand the power of those in office, and we need better people in all levels of government. So my desire to run for office is still very strong, I just need to look for opportunities over the next couple of years."
For more information on You Gotta Believe, visit http://www.yougottabelieve.org/workshops.htm