Fostering Success: Nathaniel Williams Overcame His Childhood in Foster Care. Now the Founder of HumanWorks Helps Others Do the Same
Skrhak, K. Shelby, Success
Nathaniel Williams has penned seven books about letting go of the past and other topics, but he's never written about the tragic, foundation-shaking event from his childhood that made him an expert in the subject.
Williams, founder and CEO of Pennsylvania-based social services group HumanWorks Affiliates, was thrust with his 11 orphaned siblings into the New York City foster care system when he was 5 years old. Today, as a successful entrepreneur, CEO and motivational speaker, he helps children and adults with similar circumstances break free of their difficult pasts, to find success in all aspects of their lives.
His mother was single and struggling financially, physically and mentally when she went to a hospital emergency room for a severe headache. After triage, doctors sent her home with elevated blood pressure.
She took a few steps out the door, collapsed in the hospital parking lot and later died. With no father in the picture, Williams and his siblings were orphaned--forcing social services to divvy them up in five foster homes and later shuffle them between group homes.
"There wasn't a family member that was willing to take all of us in," Williams says, commenting that social services should have explained more thoroughly to his extended family members that taking in all nine children under age 18 was not the only option. Instead, five taxi cabs waited at the funeral home, where Williams and his brothers and sisters had just laid their mother to rest. Social services asked them to pair up with a sibling and choose a cab--the destination would be their new foster home.
Williams and his younger brother spent several years in a foster home, then, a group home until he "aged out" of the system at 18. Williams rarely saw his siblings during childhood and, since then, mostly at family funerals; at 45, he's already lost a sister and three brothers to disease and one to overdose.
Living in a group home campus, Williams was the one on whom other kids depended. "I was very serious and businesslike," he says. "I even wore a shirt and tie every day." In high school, Williams was an achiever, participating in a work-study program for adults with mental retardation, which likely piqued his interest in social services. But while Williams was a mature, well-rounded young man upon graduation, his 20s were more difficult; the effects of his challenging childhood resurfaced in other areas of his life.
"Unbeknownst to me, for almost 35 years, I stood at the foot of my mother's casket, angry and frustrated," Williams says. "I was short-visioned in what I expected of my life. I didn't see things through, and I didn't have the tenacity to stick with them. My patience was limited. I felt friends were very expendable. Even my finances I wasn't concerned about because no one in my family had lived past the age of 50, so I thought, 'What's the point of saving for the future?'"
Though he was going to school, earning degrees and gaining rank in various social services positions, his mindset was holding him back more than he realized at the time. "I was standing in my own way," he says. "I finally realized that if you want something different, you gotta do something different. …