Steffanie Kramer’s life has been a Cinderella story, complete with wicked foster parents (a foster mom forced her to clean floors on her hands and knees, and banished her to the garage, where she slept on sofa cushions for weeks, as punishment for having “an attitude”) – and a fairy tale ending.
She finally found her “forever family,” Ellen and Bob Kramer and their brood, in 2011. The couple adopted her four years later, just before she turned 23.
She will graduate from Sacramento State on May 21 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Dean Fred Baldini chose her from among 1,268 eligible graduates from the College of Health and Human Services to deliver the Commencement address.
She was a finalist for this year’s Dean’s Awards for Outstanding Graduates, and her outstanding academic achievements have consistently landed her on the Dean’s Honor List.
“Steffanie is an exceptional student. Her courage and tenacity exhibit all that is good at Sac State,” says President Robert S. Nelsen.
Kramer plans to attend graduate school at Sac State and earn a master’s in social work (MSW). And then she wants to change the world for foster kids.
“I hope that other kids in the system can find one person in their life who can help them strip away the labels and find who they are,” she says. “The child who is being mistreated is going to grow up to be an adult, and I just hope they’re able to know that they are loved, wanted, chosen, and that they’re good people.”
Kramer, who grew up as Steffanie Eisenga, went into the foster care system at age 9, along with her older brother and three younger siblings. Their mother was a drug addict who lost her children when Child Protective Services learned that she was using drugs while pregnant.
Separated from her brothers and sisters, Kramer was shuffled from foster home to foster home and lived a nightmare with one family for five years before being placed with the Kramers, she says.
“I’ve gone from being alone and separated from my siblings to going through sexual abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse, to joining a family of 12,” she says. “The love is what changed my life. I will never be the same. I know I am loved, and I have a family now.”
She has reconnected with her birth mother, who is clean and working, and she has a relationship with her younger siblings. She was the sixth foster child adopted by the Kramers, who also have four biological children. The Kramer offspring range in age from 4 to 29, along with a growing number of nieces and nephews.
While at Sac State, Kramer has been active in Guardian Scholars, a support group for students who are former foster youth or homeless, and in the New Student Orientation program.
“She worked for me for four summers and was the student coordinator, the highest position you can have. She was wonderful,” says Mary Shepherd, assistant director of Academic Advising and coordinator of New Student Orientation. “I know that she’ll go out and do amazing things when she’s done with her education.”
Last December, shortly before her adoption was finalized, Kramer and other former foster youth were invited by Today host Natalie Morales to talk on national television about their experiences growing up in the foster care system. They also made a public service announcement for Children’s Rights, a national organization that advocates for abused and neglected kids.
“I hope every foster kid gets the opportunity to finally see their real selves in the mirror and say, ‘I’m good. I’m loved. I’m able.’ That’s my hope,” Kramer says. “When I get to the place that I get married and have a family of my own, I will be adopting and fostering children, and doing the hard work so many people don’t want to do and that these children deserve.”