ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — On a sunny but slightly chilly November afternoon, Paycee saddled up Girlfriend the horse at Deer Creek Farm in Fayetteville with a little trepidation.

She said it had been quite a while since she last went horseback riding, so owner and trainer Diane Gooderl coached Paycee on how to get the mare set up and ready to go.

When it was finally time to ride, Gooderl stayed close by Girlfriend’s side to qualm any fears the 15-year-old had.

“It was kind of scary at first, but then I got into it, and I was like, yes, that’s kind of nice,” Paycee said.

Don’t let her initial nerves fool you, Paycee loves animals and hopes to be a vetrenarian one day. She talked about living in foster homes in the past that had calves, several cats and dogs, as well as horses. She remembered one named Tornado fondly.

“I like their soft noses and their squishy lips, and I love their personalities. They’re so cute,” she said.

She went on to talk about how they all have different personalities and said, “some of them are really spunky, and some of them have a lot of attitude,” as she rolled her eyes.

By the end of her private riding lesson with Gooderl, Paycee was smiling ear to ear. She then took on a more serious tone as she opened up about her time living in Arkansas’ foster care system.

She explained how she was adopted as a toddler (at 22-months-old) and lived with her adoptive family for about a decade. Behavioral issued led to her going to stay in a treatment facility and it was there she learned she was no longer welcome back to the home she’d lived nearly her entire life.

“She was just abandoned by her adopted family… It has caused an extreme amount of trauma.”

Kelsey Jones, Paycee’s adoption specialist with the Arkansas Division of Children & Family Services.

It was January 2022 when she reentered Arkansas’ foster care system.

“She’s very sensitive… small things that maybe shouldn’t upset her, do. She is also very triggered by loud noises, loud voices. She was emotionally abused,” Jones said.

Jones also mentioned how these experiences have caused Paycee to struggle with confrontation. The therapeutic foster home she currently lives in has helped her better learn to manage her emotions.

“I’m in a family right now and it’s actually functional. None of the other ones have been functional and they are teaching me… how to actually be part of like a family and it’s really fun,” Paycee said.

The teenager is eligible for adoption and yearns to find parents who’ll not only adopt her, but not let her down like she’s grown so accustomed to.

“Family is very, very important to me and once I get attached… if I have to leave or if I can’t do it, or if you can’t do it anymore, then it’s going to be really, really hard on me,” she said.

“She’s just such a sweet girl. She loves very hard. Kids that have been through what she’s been through maybe sometimes struggle with loyalty, but not her. She loves her people really hard. That’s quite special,” Jones said.

Though Paycee has several foster siblings in the home she lives in right now, she thinks she would like to be adopted into a family where she is the only child.

“It’s going to be really important that a family be able to devote their attention and their time for her,” Jones said.

When asked what she wants in prospective parents, Paycee said, “I want them to not fight with each other because that’s kind of traumatic… and I also… would prefer if they listened to me whenever I was trying to tell them something or helped me whenever I was trying to cope with something.”

Paycee also said she’d like to find parents who are willing to try new things, who like to travel and be outside.

“I just want people who genuinely like for real love me.”


Learn more about Paycee, and other teens, kids and sibling groups who are eligible for adoption through foster care in Arkansas on Project Zero’s website.