Stories & Voices

Sheryl’s StoryI’m 33 years old, married to a wonderful man, and we have three great kids. They have such a depth of perspective and kindness that it’s difficult to imagine that things could’ve been very different for them. It’s hard to see it now, when you look at me and my family, or when I tell you I’m a 3rd year medical student or that I taught high school in Los Angeles for 8 years…but once upon a time, I was a scared, angry, homeless teenager in Hollywood, and it took a community of caring staff members and private donors to help me reach for a different dream.

My kids make me so very proud, and they remind me continuously how fortunate I am to have been a client at My Friend’s Place so many years ago.

When I first came to Hollywood, I was a naïve 13 year old from North Carolina. I bounced back and forth in foster homes, programs, and then back home with my family until I was 16. When I returned to LA, I was older, wiser, and street smart. I was an unapproachable, sullen teenager who distrusted all adults. I’d been hurt by too many people who were supposed to help me. I was disconnected, and when I wasn’t in a shelter, I slept in so many scary places: lifeguard towers in Santa Monica, squats, in front of the now remodeled Pantages Theater, at strangers’ houses.

At 18, I started making some progress; I found a job, started taking community college classes, and moved into a studio apartment. But everything unraveled a few months later when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I lost the apartment, went back to a shelter in Hollywood, and was again struggling to make ends meet. At six months pregnant, I had to quit my job, and my options became dimmer. I considered staying at a maternity home, but their rules were so rigid – I’d only be able to work or go to school six hours per day, and I couldn’t see how that would help me make a better future for myself and my child. I found some friends to stay with, and spent the last few months of my pregnancy moving from place to place. It was such an unstable, frightening time.

I remember meeting with my caseworker at My Friend’s Place, and back then, there was no parenting program. They listened to my concerns and tried to help, butmost importantly, they cared about what I valued and they didn’t criticize me. They gave me a baby shower and connected me to all of the available resources. My pregnancy forced me to ask for help, which finally crumbled my last defensive barriers. When my daughter was born, MFP picked up my car seat at the place where I was staying and visited me in the hospital. When I didn’t have money for formula, they went and bought my daughter three large containers. They helped me get into the YWCA mother’s program, which gave me an affordable small apartment. Every step of the way, MFP was always there.

I’m not sure how MFP always managed to have donations to provide the things we needed, or how much of it they gave me from their own pockets. My daughter never went hungry, I always had a bus pass, and I was able to re-enroll in school. When I first saw my daughter, I realized I needed to be somebody better for her. I needed to go further in school, and get a job that could forever support her. I dreamed of becoming a pediatrician, but that was so far out of my reach in the early years. Instead, I transferred from LAVC to UCLA and completed a BA in Sociology. During that time, MFP found a donor to provide me with a $1,000 scholarship, which I gratefully used for childcare and books. After I graduated, MFP again stepped up to help me with my teaching credential, paying for my licensing exams.

When I received my first salaried paycheck as a teacher, I never needed to ask for their help again. Instead, I started to come back as a donor, and I was able to run food and clothing collection drives with my students for the program. I am honored to be able to give back to this program, because I know they make a difference.

When you help a young mom in My Friend’s Place’s Parenting Program, you’re also helping helping her kids.You’re giving her a chance to reach her full potential as a mom, and giving her kids a chance to rise up out of poverty. You never know where they’ll end up, and sometimes, your simplest efforts can have a lasting impact. I may never be able to directly thank the people that gave to MFP when I was a young mom almost 14 years ago, but from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate their gifts.

Thank you.

Sheryl

Jeffrey’s StoryWhen Jeffrey*, a 23 year old African-American male, came to My Friend’s Place in early 2007, he had already been living on the streets for five years. He had spent his teenage years shuttling between group homes and his mother’s house. At his mother’s house, Jeffrey and his five siblings were exposed to drug use as well as physical and emotional abuse. Things were not much better at the group homes. When he turned 18, Jeffrey left the group home and began living on the streets. Even as he struggled with homelessness, Jeffrey excelled in high school earning a degree and the respect of his basketball coach.

With his coach’s help, Jeffrey got recruited to play ball at a local junior college. He began classes, but as he struggled with life on the streets, he stopped playing basketball and shortly thereafter became unable to meet the financial aid requirements. Without the needed resources, Jeffrey had to drop out of college. As his life goals seemed to be slipping away and the abusive voice of his mother returned, he sought out drugs and alcohol in an attempt to dull his pain and distract his mind.

By the time he walked through MFP’s doors, Jeffrey was struggling with his addiction. For weeks, he visited MFP only for meals and companionship with other young people. One day, one of Jeffrey’s friends approached an MFP staff member and expressed concern for Jeffrey. He was becoming increasingly aggressive and depressed.
A few days later, at the urging of his friends, Jeffrey met with an MFP case manager. He was concerned about his own behavior, saying that the recent death of his grandmother combined with the challenged of life on the streets were making it hard to hold things together. As he began to talk about his challenges, Jeffrey began to build strong rapport with the case manager.

Jeffrey identified his dream to permanently get off the streets. Although he felt close to the community he had built during his time on the streets, Jeffrey came to see that, by getting housing, he could lead his friends to greater stability by example. With the support of his case manager, Jeffrey applied to a highly selective transitional living program.

Jeffrey took the initiative, traveling over 30 miles to interview with the housing program and attend a three day orientation. Fortunately, he was accepted to the program, and MFP staff helped him move his belongings to his new home later that month. Within one week, he had applied for and been offered a job. Today, Jeffrey is housed, has opportunities for employment and he has started playing basketball again.

Although My Friend’s Place staff helped Jeffrey, he took the first step toward stability on his own by identifying his need for a new reality. We were fortunate to be there for that moment and help Jeffrey achieve his goal of becoming more self-sufficient.

 

Jonathan’s StoryJonathan* was drunk multiple times before ever completing elementary school; his father fed him bourbon so Jonathan would resist less while being sexually molested. On the night his mother was released from jail, Jonathan rode eagerly by his father’s side to pick her up. Pulling off at a rest stop, his father convinced Jonathan to stay in the car while he went inside to make a phone call. He never returned. Jonathan was 8 years old. Old enough to vividly remember the abuse and the anxious feelings of abandonment, Jonathan displayed violent behavior toward caregivers while struggling with the disruption in his young life. Interventions by psychiatric staff resulted in heavy, inconsistent medication. Removed from over ten placements in eight years, Jonathan ran to the streets after witnessing a vicious fight where his foster mother pulled a gun on her estranged husband.

When Jonathan first visited My Friend’s Place, he was 16 years old, extremely withdrawn and heavily dependent on the alcohol that had first helped him numb the pain of his father’s sexual abuse. As he ate lunch on his second day, a staff member addressed him by name to invite him to a photography workshop. Jonathan made eye contact for the first time and barely uttered, “You remember my name?”

That moment of rapport convinced Jonathan to join the workshop where volunteers provided guidance about expressing himself in a positive, non-violent way. In the months that followed Jonathan learned that MFP’s encouragement was unconditional and unwavering. Working with a Clinical Case Worker, he explored a substance abuse issues group, entered a treatment program and began to confront the nightmares of his past in weekly therapeutic sessions.

Allison’s StoryA while ago, we received a phone call from Allison*, a youth who used to visit us regularly. Allison shared how so many things are different for her four-year-old daughter than they were for Allison when she was that age. Her little girl has no bruises, smiles with healthy chubby cheeks, and most significantly, holds her pre-school teacher’s hand with eagerness rather than fear.

Although teachers tried to help Allison by reporting evidence of abuse, she was unable to trust anyone. As a child, Allison felt that all adults were just like her mother who told her she was loved yet denied her food or burnt her with cigarettes if she played too loud.

At 13, Allison forgot to take out the trash and was locked out of the house on a cold, rainy night. She wandered to the
highway and sold her body for the first time – exchanging sex for a ride. Amidst the sewage and crime on the streets of Hollywood, Allison actually felt safer than at home. At My Friend’s Place, Allison found food and joined workshops about music, cooking and HIV/AIDS prevention. She eventually discovered that she was pregnant at our onsite clinic provided by the Mobile Health Team from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the LA Free Clinic. At the time, Allison was only 16 years old.

Now in her 20s, Allison says she realizes our staff were in fact guiding her at a time when she would have typically rejected instruction by adults. She recalls the workshops as her favorite memory and says it was in those workshops that she first found adults she could trust. She recalls that MFP shared options, but made no ultimatums and served Allison unconditionally, always believing in her potential. Eventually, Allison herself believed that life was valuable and chose to try a shelter program and therapy.

Because of Allison’s bravery, her little girl is mostly concerned about field trips to the zoo and sparkly pink sneakers rather than pain and tears. And while Allison still has nightmares about her childhood, her daydreams are bright and joyful. What is miraculous is that Allison believes her dreams can come true. And so do we.

*Names and some details have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the youth we serve.