My favorite Christmas memory? It was 2 years ago at the best Christmas Party that I have been to. Actually, it was the only Christmas party I’ve been invited to. Unless you count the parties where my dad gets so drunk and starts hitting my mom and I. I wouldn’t really call that a party though. After I left my parents house a few years ago because of the abuse that I had endured for years, I found YouthHope. Some of my street buddies took me to YouthHope and introduced me to Heidi. Right away I felt loved. I felt cared for. I felt wanted. I hadn’t ever felt those feelings. I came to YouthHope mainly for the food and the encouragement that I received. After all, sleeping on the streets requires many sleepless, foodless nights. I started regularly going to YouthHope in November. After a few weeks, the volunteers were asking for our shoe sizes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but I knew it had to be good especially since the shoes I had on were two sizes too small and my toes were coming out the front. I got in line to give them my shoe size and they told me about a Christmas party that was going to be happening in December where I would receive a brand new pair of shoes. Wow! I was so excited! I thought this must be what children feel as they wait for Santa Clause to bring their gifts.
On the day of the Christmas party, I arrived to YouthHope and thought I had to be in the wrong place. There were tables decorated, centerpieces, brand new clothes, wrapped shoes, and food. Oh the smell of the food. Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn…it smelled delicious! I had so much fun at the party with my buddies. We ate and ate and ate, Heidi read us a Christmas book, and we each received our shoes that fit perfectly! My feet had never been so happy.
Now, I didn’t last long in Redlands. I was on a mission to find a new home where I could start my life over and not worry about my parents finding me. I’ve traveled and now live in Oregon. I’m still on my mission to find a new home. I go to local shelters for food and a warm place to stay. It’s not much and I hope I’m not here much longer, but you know what has helped me this far? The shoes from YouthHope. Yep, I’m still wearing those Christmas shoes. Ya they have duct tape on them and there are several tears, but on the days where I feel like there is no hope for me, when I feel like no one cares, I just look down and remember YouthHope. They cared for me. They loved me. They gave me hope. I will always remember them and hope that someday I can buy a new pair of shoes for someone in need because a simple act of buying shoes can be the only hope someone holds on to.
How hungry will you be this Thanksgiving?
We were having our Thanksgiving meal with our YouthHope kids when our sweet Darren arrived. He was extremely skinny to the point where we knew he didn’t have a full meal for the last few months. He was very shy at first and would only talk to some of our YouthHope kids. Once he ate however, he lit up. We gave him a plate of warm thanksgiving food and he opened up to Heidi about what was going on in his life.
Darren was 15 and probably only had a 5th grade reading level. He told us how he loved school, but couldn’t go very often- his mom was mostly on the couch as a drug addict and his father was not in his life. He told us about her drug addiction as well as her bipolar disorder, and that his combination led to him receiving many beatings. They rarely had food, and Darren didn’t get to go outside much once his mom found her favorite punishment for him.
If she wasn’t successful finding drugs, she would beat Darren and put him in her cedar chest. He quickly came to fear the chest and captivity. From his early childhood until he was 13 he hadn’t been out of the house much because he was locked in the chest. Due to her bipolar disorder, his mother was constantly angry and depressed and did not tend to her son’s needs.
Darren was constantly hungry, failing in school, and getting sick often. The cedar chest was a common place. Darren found himself, even if he didn’t misbehave. All he wanted was for his mother to love him and spend time with him.
And things grew worse. His mom got a boyfriend who was an even worse addict and brought the drugs to Darren’s home. Darren would constantly step on needles that had been left everywhere in the house. Together her boyfriend and her would use drugs, and take turns beating Darren and locking him in the chest. He would be locked in for many hours, and sometimes he thought they would leave him to die.
One day, Darren witnessed his mother’s boyfriend beating his mom. He tried to defend her, but was already very weak from malnourishment, and couldn’t do much against her boyfriend. The boyfriend beat him to a point where he blacked out and woke up in the cedar chest. He was kept there for 2 days. Once his mother let him out after the second day he decided he had to leave or he would die next time. Darren left his house at 13 and wandered the streets for a year.
He heard about YouthHope from other kids on the streets and we got to welcome him to our YouthHope Thanksgiving dinner. It was his first Thanksgiving dinner he had ever had. We’ve been providing him with food and healthcare resources, as well as helping him overcome his severe learning disabilities. He is a very hard worker who is in our GED program and a very sweet and humble kid. He’s overcome a lot and we are very proud of him.
My Name is Juanita
My name is Juanita and my story is short and not much different from many of my friends except that because of YouthHope I believe the ending to my story my be a happy ending instead of sadness.
Both of my parents are meth users and because of that we have lived in parks, trailers, campers, garages, cars….pretty much anywhere. You name it. Growing up, it was just part of the routine to go through restaurant garbage cans. We knew the best places and my brothers and I worked just as hard searching for food and other people’s thrown out “valuable stuff” that got put out for garbage, as most people do at an 8-5 job. We really wanted a better life but just didn’t seem to know how to take the right steps.
While we were looking for food, YouthHope quickly came on our radar. Because we dressed decent most people at school would never have guessed the level of our poverty. The YouthHope drop-in center became a much needed stop for food and clothes, but more important we soon discovered a staff that really seemed to care.
When my brother got a bad chest cold and fever one winter, one of the YouthHope caseworkers took him to the SACC Clinic in San Bernardino for medical care.
When my wisdom teeth and other teeth started hurting and looking pretty bad, they helped me get dental care and when I was old enough they helped me get my MediCal card.
But most importantly, I was able to enroll in Crafton Hills College! The Housing Director helped me with registration. I can’t believe it, I’m a college girl! I also have a part time job thanks to Judy, one of the YouthHope staff who helped me with a resume along with getting my food handlers license. I can’t believe I qualify for tuition aid. No more dumpsters for food. No more wondering where I will sleep at night.
School started this week and I can’t believe how helpful my teachers are. Plus I’m making some new friends who I think will study with me.
I’m super scared, but the staff at YouthHope tell me they are sure I can do it. You see, I want to be a teacher someday. It was some of my teachers along the way who were the only support that kept me going. I want to be one of those teachers. YouthHope staff say they believe in me plus they have tutors to help if I get stuck.
Like I said earlier, I never thought this could be me.
Thank you YouthHope!
We Don’t Look at the Past, We Look at What You Will Become.
Joe and his younger brother grew up in the foster care system. They moved from house to house never really fitting in with the families that they lived with. They were abused, lived in dangerous neighborhoods, and were never told that they were loved. When they would mess up, the families would pack them up and send them to the next house.
Joe’s last foster home was in an extremely bad part of town. He couldn’t leave his house without a weapon to protect himself. This worried Joe, not because he couldn’t protect himself, but because he was afraid of what he would do if someone came after him or his brother. He decided at that point to runaway. He knew that he would be better off on the street than living in a dangerous neighborhood.
The street life wasn’t what Joe was expecting. He soon became depressed and needed to find somewhere to live and someone to help him get on his feet. Some of his friends from the street brought him to YouthHope to get help. YouthHope was able to provide him with a hot meal, clothes, and a blanket. Joe spent a lot of one-on-one time with YouthHope’s Case Managers. They were able to speak truth and love into his life. This allowed him to see that he was worthy and loved and was able to make the positive change in his life. YouthHope was also able to help Joe see a counselor that helped him with his past hurts. These interventions helped Joe take that first step to get on the path to self-sufficiency.
It was shortly after he came to YouthHope that he met Steve. Steve is an extremely generous man who opens his doors to youth who want to exit street life. Steve had an opening in his home and invited Joe to check it out. Steve and Joe got along right away and they soon became inseparable. Steve, along with YouthHope, was able to get Joe a job. It was this experience that changed Joe. He felt loved, supported, and accepted for the first time in his life.
Joe ended up moving in with Steve and his mother. This made a huge impact on Joe. He was now apart of a family that loved him and cared for him. The first time that Joe met Steve’s mom, he said “you won’t like me because of all of the things that I have done” and Steve’s mom looked at him and said “I don’t look at the past, I look at what you will become and you will do great things”. It was the first time in his life that Joe felt loved unconditionally. Joe was held to high standards in Steve’s house. There were rules and discipline that were lovingly put into practice at the house. Joe didn’t mind these rules, because he knew that it was going to make him a better person. Steve would tell Joe that he couldn’t go to certain people’s house and when Joe asked why he would say, “If you go there you will get in trouble and my son won’t get in trouble”.
Today, Joe is off all drugs and alcohol and still lives with Steve. He loves having Steve as his father figure and has nothing but good things to say about Steve. When Steve’s mother passed away, Joe spoke at the funeral about what an amazing woman she was.
What a difference one person can make in the life of a youth. Without Steve, who knows where Joe would be today.
I Will Say My Name is Beth…
I will say my name is Beth, although we all know that’s a story name. Most of my friends and I, at one time or another have used “other” names to protect the identity of ourselves and/or our families. You see, bad things happen when police or social workers get involved. Our families may not be the best, but they are part of us. Most of us know how to dress and talk so we won’t look homeless. Contrary to common thought, not all homeless people are veterans or those with mental illness who sleep in the park with their lives in plastic trash bags. There are many of us I will call “the invisible homeless”. We sleep under bridges, couch surf in friends’ houses until their parents kick us out, sleep in parks, etc. Some of us even manage to go to school when we don’t know where we will sleep that night, or where food will come from.
I’m willing to share some of my story because I want each of you, my readers, to realize how important and life changing programs like YouthHope, can be for kids like me.
I am eighteen years old. My dad has never been in my life. I wouldn’t know him if I passed him on the street. I often wonder how things would have been, if I would have had a father in my life. I have wished… but if wishes were horses…you know the saying.
My mom was super young when she had me. She was hooked on street life and drugs, and told me parenting was “too hard”. Many mornings she would mutter around in our motel room saying she “didn’t know what to do with me”. I was “in her way”, likely to “get her in trouble”, “another mouth to feed”, and she knew she just wasn’t “in a place to take care” of me. That was undoubtedly truth. Hard truth. The decision she made was to “give me away”. Those words to this day roll in my head like a merry-go-round – in my dreams and in my waking. She “gave me away”, “gave me away”, because she “loved me”. The person she gave me to “did the paperwork” and became my guardian so as she explained, she could “get money” for taking me in.
I had food on the table, and while house rules were excessive at times, I credit my guardian with teaching me the value of work and of taking school seriously. Because of her heavy-handed strictness, I learned to do hard work, show self-discipline, and commitment to my schooling, which were all gifts.
As time went on, for reasons I still don’t understand, the home became abusive. My guardian punished me for things that never happened. As I hit puberty she accused me of “sleeping around” and “using drugs”. “Just like your mom,” she would say. I won’t go into detail, but she did things to me to make me less attractive to boys. She hacked into my website at school and kept all my ID and tuition aide under her control. I seemed to be the focus of an anger that was both unpredictable, and irrational. She would hit me and scream stories to justify her anger. After one particularly bad encounter I felt my safety was compromised, that my guardian was beyond crazy. That one… particular… terrifying night… that is seared in my brain forever…. I grabbed my backpack, stuffed in a few belongings, and walked out into the night.
At first my biggest fear was of being found by my guardian and having to endure her rage. I hid in parks and slept in alleys, with my teddy bear and blanket, not knowing how to proceed.
I am small, and people say I’m cute, but alone on the streets all I felt was fear and anxiety. I knew I needed to stay invisible. Days passed and months flew by. As my fears lessened, I knew something had to change. Where to go, where to sleep, where to find food, who to trust and how to move forward, were all questions that seemed to lead into dead-end streets. I slept in Laundromats and tried to “clean up” in public bathrooms. I stole food and other personal supplies. I tried to apply for work. I lied on applications but when well-meaning managers asked for things like my resume’, or references, or letters of recommendation I was lost. I didn’t have a resume’. I had never worked. I didn’t know how to make a resume’, or have resources to do so. And I didn’t have a place to print it if I had one. Finally a fast food restaurant said they would hire me. I was ecstatic, until I heard them say I had to purchase black Docker pants and specific work shoes. I stood in the isle at Walmart eyeing the clothes and wondering if I could steal them without getting caught. Hopeless, I walked away. Life was impossible.
One night at the Laundromat a worn and tired looking old lady (she looked like a meth addict) said to me, “Go home kid. It’s too late for you to be out.” She gave me an up and down, “Where’s your family kid?” I broke my dazed and hungry reverie when she said, “If you don’t have no where else to go, there’s a house for run-aways by Sylvan Park. You should run over there. I hear they help kids. She was my angel out of Heaven.
Long story short, I found a short term safe house, with a staff that helped kids like me have a safe place to be, while we figured out how I could move forward. At that point in my life I was only a couple of months from turning 18. The staff told me about a housing and educational program for 18-24 year olds that gave kids like me safe but cheap housing if we would agree to go to a trade school or community college full time, and work part time. They had other support systems too but a safe house and school were the parts that caught my attention. I wanted to get back in school and I longed for a safe place to call home.
I joined that housing program and I am currently enrolled at Valley College and am finishing my first semester with a 4.0 GPA. I realize not everyone does that, but again, my guardian taught me a few good things. Either way it wouldn’t have happened with out a safe place to call home, my program director and resident assistant, the counselor I work with, my mentor, and the skill classes the housing program offers. Plus I’m loving my work at the Pizza Parlor and since I only have to pay $100 per month for my rent, I’m able to save enough money to support myself with basic needs while I go to school. It sounds like a fairy tale story, except for the part about not having a family. But then again, I guess some of us “inherit a family” and some of us “choose a family”. My current family is the YouthHope support staff, my housing director, and my housemates. So there you are. Thanks to YouthHope there is one less homeless kid on the streets, and one kid who just might “make it”.
By Dee Dee Schilt
The Beginning of Moving Forward…
Alex’s struggle with alcohol began at the young age of 13. His mother introduced him to a lifestyle of drinking, much like her own. His parents had been separated for as long as he can remember, and his mother would bring a string of boyfriends through the household during his entire upbringing. Due to this experience, Alex struggles with confiding or respecting male figures in his life, as the men he has known showed no care or concern for a positive relationship with Alex or contributed to a healthy upbringing.
Alex also struggled in school. He had trouble concentrating due to his hunger pains (as there was rarely food in the home), and he strug-gled understanding the school-work. Alex consequently dropped out of high school after 9th grade. Alex had visited us in and out of this time, but never quite shared much of his story.
Recently he began attending YouthHope more and more, and confided in us enough to share these pieces of his life. Alex confessed his struggles with alcohol and came to a place to accept he is an alcoholic. This step of awareness is huge for our youth, and shows their deep desire to change. It shows they are aware of where they are in life, but are not willing to accept it as all that they are or will become. Several of our youth struggle with this, to no fault of their own. They come from homes where this lifestyle is exhibited and encouraged, and there is no one in their life to tell them otherwise.
We are currently helping Alex to attend rehab and go through the process of quitting, healing, and reaching a stable place to move him forward. We love our dear Alex and are excited for his progress. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
An Issue of Pride…
Our new youth Eli, is one such youth who has been raised in a caring family (a novelty among our youth). He attends RHS and is very dedicated to his studies and involvement in the school’s football team. Eli wakes up very early every day to walk to school and arrive on time. He does not allow himself to be tardy. His father works fulltime at a minimum wage job and cannot drive him to school.
When asked about his needs, Eli very sheepishly admitted that his family sometimes doesn’t have enough food for his lunches, and so he often goes without. As we asked about starting the process of looking into a free lunch for him at school, he became afraid and ashamed and begged that we would not inform his parents of this request. “If they knew I asked for free meals for the school, they would be so upset! They don’t like taking help from other people.”
Eli’s family is filled with the pride of caring for themselves. This pride is so strong that they are unable to let others help them—even in finding food for their son. “We always have enough to buy one chicken, and we have that for the whole week,” Eli shared.
As Eli is one of our new youth, we are still getting to know his full story. In the meantime, he is coming to YouthHope and receiving a nutritious meal with us, and we are making all efforts to help him receive free lunch at school.
Sometimes, our youth’s struggle comes in the form of their parents’ pride. Every youth is different. Every issue is different. YouthHope addresses these differences and meets each youth with love and care.
Life on the Streets…
Though most of our youth do a very good job at hiding their homelessness, none had done so well as our dear youth Zander.
Zander found YouthHope nearly 3 months ago. He would come early, wait for YouthHope volunteers to arrive, and would help set up for our hot meal times. He is very sweet and considerate of others, and is always willing to give a helping hand. You would never think he has experienced the things he has in his young life.
Recently, Zander opened up and trusted us enough to share his story. What he shared was nothing short of tragic.
Zander had grown up between Beaumont, Yucaipa, Redlands, and a small town in the state of Minnesota. His mother was a drug-addict and had lost 3 of his half-siblings to Child Protective Services. Zander was raised by his father for most of his life—until he was 13 years old. His father was very physically abusive with Zander, and at 13 Zander ran away and left to live with his mother again. His mother and her boyfriend then introduced young Zander to the effects of Methamphetamine. Zander also became addicted and would help his mother deal on the streets. For 2 years, they lived on the streets, sleeping under bushes and freeways. Zander, only 13 years of age, had already experienced the worst ends of life. From being physically, sexually, and verbally abused in his early childhood, to living under a bush, to being introduced to meth at the age of 13…Zander had seen and done it all.
Zander’s mother decided it was time she moved her life forward and attend rehab. With his mother in rehab, Zander went to couch surfing with friends and living on the streets alone. Throughout this time Zander got into trouble with the police and was put in juvenile hall for 2 weeks. When Zander was released he continued to couch-surf until his mother found him. At this point, she was working hard to remain sober and began working at a fast food restaurant nearby – this was the first job she had ever had.
Together, Zander and his mother began working to move forward and be rid of the habits and tragedies of their past.
Zander’s experiences are such that you would never expect him to have lived through this when meeting him. He is quiet, silly, caring, and inclusive of everyone he meets. It is difficult to imagine the pains our youth face when they recall a memory of their past. Some such memories are inevitable and cannot be hidden for too long before they resurface and need to be dealt with. The abuse of Zander’s past has yet to be dealt with, but he knows that he has us to help him along the way when he is ready. Many of our youth carry this burden of their past, this self-consciousness of their lifestyles passed on to them by their parents. It is one of the most challenging things for our youth to share this past and these experiences with others—especially adults. Many of the adult-figures in their lives have bailed and abandoned them; or told them to “do better,” not realizing those words really sound like “you’re not good enough” to a youth’s ears. It takes a great deal of time and care for our youth to begin to trust our volunteers with their stories, but when they do, they realize that they are cared for and valued for who they are, with us.