The First YouthHope Christmas (by Heidi Mayer)
When I first started YouthHope, I never imagined some of the things I would experience. From overwhelming sadness learning about our youths past, to ecstatic joy seeing a youth who has struggled so long, finally receive their high school diploma.
I wasn’t expecting such a range of emotions on our first YouthHope Christmas, but I did!
Our goal was to provide every youth with ANY shoe that they wanted. It could be any style, any brand, any color. We had 38 youth sign up for shoes that year. The staff and volunteers at YouthHope started searching high and low for these shoes. We went to every store across the Inland Empire to ensure that each youth would have their dream shoe. Somehow we were able to find every shoe!
On the day of the party, we had incredible volunteers that came and decorated the entire room. Each table was set beautifully, there was delicious food, and each of those 38 shoes were wrapped, waiting to be opened.
As the youth started to come, I felt so much joy seeing the look on their faces. They were amazed at what the community had done for them. They felt loved and cared for.
One young lady came walking in, but she didn’t have the same look as the others. She looked upset and I asked her if she was ok. She said “I hate Christmas and I only came because you asked me to”. My heart broke.
The rest of the night was amazing. I got to share my favorite Christmas story, we ate food, we laughed, and they got to open their shoes. The youth loved it. They all sat there and took off the shoes they were wearing and put on their new pair. They were shocked that they fit and that they were exactly what they asked for.
As everyone was leaving, I saw that young lady standing in the corner. I went over to her worried that we had messed her shoes. I asked if everything was ok and she gave me the biggest smile, hugged me, and said “Thank you! This is the FIRST gift that I’ve ever received in my entire life”. I was shocked! She had never received a gift. EVER!
I knew from that moment on, that every year we would hand out Christmas shoes. Even though the shoes are expensive and tough to find, we will continue to give shoes because for many of our youth, its the only gift they receive ALL year. Maybe the only gift EVER!
Thank you for helping us give our youth HOPE! We would not be able to do it without you!
My Story Isn’t Over Yet
It all started when I was 11. I had been in and out of foster care, but my mom attended the AA meetings and the rehab programs to get me back. I knew she wasn’t serious about her sobriety, but I didn’t have a say in it.
2 weeks after I moved back in, she started shooting up heroin again. One night, she told me to hold my arm out. I asked her why, and she just yelled “DO IT AND LOOK AWAY”. So I did. I felt a sharp pain and then a warm sensation go up my arm and into my entire body. I had no idea what was going on, but I just sat and let it happen.
When I finally came back to my senses, I asked my mom what she did to me. She told me that she tested the heroin on me to make sure it wasn’t laced with anything that would harm her. She was willing for me to be harmed by the drug to make sure that she wouldn’t be negatively affected. I could of died. She didn’t care.
For listening to her and doing what she asked, she showed me how to shoot up heroin on my own and gave me part of her stash.
I was hooked.
Shortly after, my mom left and I was on the streets. Every time I tried to call her, she wouldn’t answer or she would lie about where she was. She wanted nothing to do with me.
Now 5 years later, I’m still homeless, still a drug addict, and still stuck.
Some friends took me to YouthHope recently. The feeling that I felt when I was in was home. I felt safe, cared for and loved.
It felt like family.
I haven’t every felt like I had a family. It’s the one thing that I want so desperately. YouthHope is helping me in any way that I will let them. They have offered me counseling, rehab, doctors, food, etc.
I don’t really know what I want help with right now. I know I need help. I know I need to stay away from my mom and move on, but its hard. YouthHope is allowing me the time to figure it out. They have promised to be there while I figure it out and to love me through it all.
So my story isn’t over yet. I know that I will look back and see the progress one day. Today I am thankful that I am alive and that I have a place like YouthHope to go to. To get fed, get clothed, and get a hug which I so desperately need.
Thank you YouthHope for meeting me where I’m at and being patient while I figure my life out.
Stopping The Cycle of Poverty
I grew up in a toxic environment. My mom was homeless the majority of my life, and my dad was a drug addict. I lived with my dad because I needed a roof over my head, but if I could go back and change things, I would probably live with my mom because things with my dad were so bad.
Living with my dad included a constant state of fear. All of our money went to his drug addiction and there were several nights that I went without eating because he would forget about me. I was constantly pressured to buy drugs for him and he would use me to pick up the drugs.
When I turned 15, I knew things needed to change. I knew it would be tough to live on my own, to survive, but I couldn’t live with my dad anymore. So one day, I told him I was leaving and wasn’t going to live like this anymore.
I left and lived on the streets. It was hard. But better than living with my dad. I met some people my age and stuck close to them. They took me to YouthHope and that’s where I met Heidi.
She was so kind and helpful. She helped me get back into school. She got me into a housing program where I got to live with other youth my age. Heidi helped me get a job so I could start to support myself.
She was a constant in my life. I never had that before. 5 years later, I live in my own apartment. I am a fully time college student and work part time at a local grocery store. But my favorite thing that I do is help other youth at YouthHope.
Once I got off the streets and got my life in order, I promised myself that I would do everything I can to help others in my situation. The whole time I was on the street, I just wanted someone to help me. To fix it. To have knowledge about rent, school, and financial aid, and resumes. So now I’m that person.
Heidi sends me youth who are signing up for school and I help them in any way possible. I show them how to sign up for classes, how to get financial aid, help them get involved. Whatever they need.
I’ve been able to form relationships with people at our local colleges so I can get the latest up-to-date information that will help out these youth.
I’m happy to say that I have stopped the cycle of poverty in many of my friends lives. I have been able to provide hope. I want to see youth homelessness extinct and I will do everything in my power to make it a reality.
Thank you YouthHope for not only helping me, but also allowing me to help others.
At YouthHope, we have a young man who comes to see us almost everyday. He’s a great person, caring and passionate. He helps other kids he meets on the streets by bringing them to YouthHope. He’s reliable and comes weekly to help Heidi with various projects. This young man needs to escape his current housing situation and is trying hard to make his life more productive- but we can’t find him a job because no one is willing to give him a chance.
When he was born, no one wanted him. His mom had him (and his siblings) only for the tax breaks, his father was an alcoholic, and he had nothing to live fore. Therefore, he didn’t want to live.
Having been involved with older boys who stole and broke the law his whole life, he was sent to juvenile hall at age 14. Once there, he constantly started fights in hopes that he wouldn’t survive. When he turned 18, his fighting prevented him from being released and was instead transferred to another prison.
After 2 more years in prison, he had a spiritual awakening and realized that he actually wanted to live, that he deserved to live. He separated himself from negative influences, completely changed his attitude on life, and was finally released from prison.
Today, he’s doing his best to improve his life-not an easy task. As he grew up in prison and no one cared enough to teach him anything, he has no life skills. He studies with our GED tutors every week, but it’s a struggle because of his learning disabilities. Even reading and writing aren’t easy tasks for him. He consistently volunteers at YouthHope, and when he did have a temporary labor job, he ended up giving away most of the money he made.
He can’t even open a bank account because his mom opened one in his name while he was in prison and ruined his credit.
He’s currently living at home with his mother, his alcoholic brothers, and his sister, who is now having tax babies of her own. It’s not a good situation, but he has nowhere else to go until he’s able to take care of himself financially.
He has the sweetest personality, but he can’t go to technical or trade school without first obtaining his GED, and no one has been willing to look past his record to offer him a steady job-until now. He’s been working with us since January, and has finally been offered a steady position.
Despite the many difficulties and set backs, this young man has always remained positive and is extremely kind and caring. We’re so excited that his dedication has finally paid off and he’s working to become a self-sufficient adult.
Home Isn’t Always Where Your Family Is
Growing up, I never had a reliable parent. When I was five years old, my mom got my five siblings and I because my dad was doing meth. When I was eight years old, we were taken from my mom because she was doing drugs and drinking so we moved into my Aunt Jessicas house. I lived there until I was kicked out about a month ago.
I haven’t been doing well in school because its hard for me to concentrate when I’m hungry. I was hungry all the time because we never had enough money for all of us to eat full meals. My bad grades always made my aunt yell at me and I got tired of her yelling and eventually started talking back. After a while, she kicked me out.
My only option was to live with my mom and her boyfriend. We slept under bushes and every night my mom and her boyfriend wandered Redlands looking for cans and bottles they can recycle for money for drugs and alcohol. All they do is drink and do drugs.
I called my sister after a couple of weeks and she told me that things had never been better without me. They finally had enough food and Aunt Jessica never yelled anymore. I’d never felt so alone.
After a month, I was sick and tired of sleeping in the dirt but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t go back to my Aunt’s and screw up things for my siblings. They didn’t want me there, but I couldn’t stand to stay with my mom anymore either. I was so lost.
One day, I met a guy who changed my life. he told me about YouthHope and this woman called Heidi, who could help me. I came with him to meet Heidi and wasn’t sure what to expect. I really doubted that anyone would care enough about me to help. But I was wrong.
People said hi to me and asked me how I was doing and what I needed. Heidi gave me food and told me to take whatever other food I wanted with me. For the first time, I could eat until I was full, I could change my clothes, and I could relax. No one was yelling at me.
I started to come to YouthHope everyday. Eventually, I told Heidi that I didn’t want to live on the streets with my mom and her boyfriend anymore, especially because on the days that I couldn’t come to YouthHope, I didn’t get to eat. she sat and talked with me about what I could do.
I eventually decided that I wanted to try and move in with my dad because my mom had recently let my sister move in with him and it seemed to be going well. My sister said that he had turned his life around; he got clean and has an actual house.
I asked my mom and now I’m moving to my dads! I’m so grateful to have a safe house to go to, and I hope everything works out.
I cant think YouthHope enough for taking care of me and showing me that there are good people in this worls who are willing to help others.
Overcoming All Obstacles
My life changed when I was 15. I went from living with my mom who was married to my stepdad who lived in a house in a nice neighborhood with stable jobs to living with my dad.
My dad lived under some bushes with his girlfriend. Why did I move with my dad? Well I wasn’t the smartest student in school. I failed a lot of classes and got in trouble. I wasn’t smart so I didn’t do the work, which left me with nothing to do except get in trouble. My mom and step dad were getting tired of having to deal with me and the school so they told me if I messed up again, I would have to move in with my dad. Well I got in trouble the following week and was kicked out. I don’t think my mom and step dad knew how bad my dad was. They knew he wasn’t the best influence, but I don’t think they knew he was a cocaine addict living under a bush.
So I packed my things and lived with my dad. At first, I felt bad for him. He kept saying that its my moms fault that he was living like this and I started to believe him. I grew a hate for my mom and wanted to help my dad. Before I knew it, my dad was asking me if I wanted some cocaine. I told him no at first, but after he and his girlfriend kept asking me, I figured I would try it. My dad wouldn’t give me something that was bad right? Within days, I was a cocaine addict. It happened so fast.
I quickly learned that my dad was not looking out for me. He was only looking out for himself and his girlfriend. I was more of an inconvenience to them. He couldn’t take care of me, but he couldn’t get rid of me either.
It was a tough couple of months. I wasn’t in school, I spent my days doing drugs, and my nights trying to find a better place to stay.
One day while I was walking around by myself trying to figure out how I was going to survive my new life, I ran into some kids my age. I started talking to them and asking them how to live on the streets. They gave me some tips on where to find food, where to sleep , and they also told me about YouthHope. They told me that Heidi could help me.
I was so desperate so I decided to go. I enjoyed the hot meal that they gave me. It tasted good and it was homemade. I missed home cooked meals so bad.
Heidi came over and introduced herself. She asked what she could do to help and I just started crying. I needed help so bad. When the people that have taken care of you your whole life give up, it feels like your whole world has fallen apart.
Heidi helped right away. She got me into school and she got me into a rehab program so I could get cleaned up.
Its been a long road, but I just graduated from school, my dad is now clean with the help of a local homeless shelter and we live in an apartment together. He still struggles with keeping a job, but he’s clean and he’s working really hard to get a better life.
I go to a trade school where I’m learning to be a welder. After I graduate in 6 months, the school will help me find a job. My goal is to have my own place in the next year and then I’m going to start saving for a car. Thank you YouthHope! I would be lost without your help.
Your Future Doesn’t Come from Your Past
I have big dreams! Like huge! I’m going to be a doctor. No if’s, buts, or ands about it. I guess you could say I’m different from other people like me.
If you heard my story, my background, you would probably think that I would be a drug addict, or an alcoholic, a school drop out, or giving up on life.
But I’m none of those things. I’m successful and I refuse to let my past decide my future.
My parents are meth addicts. My entire life was spent homeless, searching for food. I remember days of walking around Redlands digging in trash cans looking for anything edible. Once we were done searching for food, we would go to whatever motel or car we were living in at the time to my parents passed out from doing too much meth that day.
As I got a little older, my parents managed to get enough money to rent a shack from a family. It literally was a shack and all 4 of us had to fit into it. I wasn’t about to complain though because it was better than what we were used to living in.
One day I was sitting down and out of nowhere I heard a large boom. The next thing I knew, I was running out of the shack because it was on fire. As I was trying to figure out what happened, I kept saying over and over again “I gotta get out of this mess. I gotta get out of this mess”.
Once I got outside, I realized what happened. My parents meth lab had exploded. Everything that I owned was gone. I didn’t have much before, but now I had nothing.
So with nothing to lose, I left. I left my parents, my siblings, and the only life I knew and I never turned back. I ended up moving in with my friend’s grandma. It sounds weird, but it was the only person I knew that would be a positive influence.
My friends Grandma told me about YouthHope. She told me that they could help me and be the support that I needed to ensure a better life.
When I met Heidi and the rest of the volunteers at YouthHope, I knew that I would be ok. I knew that they would help me. They wouldn’t let me down. And I was right.
The biggest blessing that I have received from YouthHope is the constant source of food that I could take home. The food pantry at YouthHope was the only food that I received. I didn’t have money to go to the grocery store and my friends grandma fed me when she could, but she didn’t have a lot of money either. I was so appreciative for the food that I got at YouthHope.
YouthHope also helped me get a job. I have been able to save money and I’m starting a savings account for when I leave for college.
I’m finishing my Senior year in High School and have become very involved in school. I love the friends that I have made in school and at YouthHope. I consider them all family and they have helped me more than they will ever know.
I also got a full scholarship to a college in Florida. I cant wait to start! I have never been so excited to be alive and have never looked so forward to my future.
Without the help of YouthHope, I don’t even know where I would be. Thank you YouthHope! You have saved my life!
I don’t trust anyone….anyone. If you knew my story, you wouldn’t blame me. I’ve had to fend for myself my whole life. I mean, I wasn’t born to a loving mother and father. I was born to be used as a tax credit. Tax babies…that’s what we’re called. My brothers and sisters were used for the same thing and now my sisters are making tax babies. My brothers are alcoholics and my dad’s been in prison the majority of my life for being a child molester.
I never felt love or trust and at a young age I wanted to die. I never had a reason to live. By the age of 5 I was involved in gangs. I stayed with them hoping to get shot by police or at a drug deal gone wrong. I just didn’t want to have to endure the pain of being unloved. Unwanted.
One night I was so angry. I had gotten into a fight with my mom and uncle. I was done with this family and with my life. I was done feeling hurt. Feeling lonely. Feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone. So I did the only thing I could think of. I burnt our house down. I was 9 years old.
I went to juvenile hall. I was kept there until I was 18. Then they moved me to a high security prison until I was 22. I saw things in prison that no one should have to see. I still have nightmares about the time that I was in there.
There was some good that came from being in prison all of those years. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t have any children that I have to support. I’m clean and I found a God who loves me.
Once I got out, I changed. I wanted a better life away from my toxic family. I wanted to get my education and get a job and live a full life. No more wishing I was dead. No more lonely days. I wanted more.
Then I found YouthHope. YouthHope was like a breath of fresh air. I felt alive when I went there. I felt loved and cared for. It was the complete opposite of what I have felt my whole life. I felt hope.
When I first walked into YouthHope, I was welcomed with open arms. Volunteers said hi to me, Heidi gave me a hug, and kids like me came up and said “Welcome to Heidi’s”. There was no judgment or no pressure. I was shown around the building and then I ate a delicious meal. I learned about all of the things that YouthHope does and I was asked questions about what I needed help with.
When they first asked me, I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of shocked by the question and didn’t fully trust these people. But as I kept coming back to YouthHope day after day, I noticed something. I started to trust again. I started to open up and allowed YouthHope to help me.
That’s when I started working towards my GED. I get tutored twice a week at YouthHope and love the one-on-one tutoring. I don’t fell stupid when I don’t know the answer and I know that I can ask any question I want without being looked at funny.
I’m also starting the Job Training Program at YouthHope. I just finished my resume and Judy is taking me out soon to go look for jobs. I know it won’t be a dream job, but it will be a start. My goal is to save my money and then go help little kids in need. Kids like me.
I owe so much to YouthHope. For their love, kindness, and trust! Thank you YouthHope!
Everyone You Meet is Fighting Some Kind of Battle
It’s strange that human beings are the only living things that can feel such long-lasting, horrendous pain on the inside. Our memories make sure we do. Some kids are able to recover from it, while others deal with a downward spiral to death. I didn’t know there was an actual way out of this mess until I met Heidi and the staff at YouthHope.
All our stories involve massive amounts of pain. We’ve had to deal with neglect and abuse from parents. With hunger for food, drugs, alcohol, love. We’ve had that longing of wishing we were loved, wishing we were normal, wishing we weren’t broken pieces. We’ve experienced every awful thing you would hope you never come face-to-face with.
I was three when my father put me in his lap outside, told me he would show me how to kill myself. I remember the blackness of the gun, the stench of alcohol on his breath, and the sounds of gunfire as the police arrived at our house. I remember the blood all over my dad. That’s the first memory I have.
I remember being passed around to my grandparents, to my mother, to the foster system, and back to my mother. She told me everyday that she’d beat her speed addiction. She told me she loved me, even when she hit me. I felt like no one really loved me. No one cared.
I remember her locking me in a motel room for 3 days with no food while she went looking for drugs. I remember her angrily smashing the cheeseburger I purchased when I stole a dollar from her. The pain of that hunger mirrored all that I felt inside.
They say I lashed out, became angry, and unmotivated. You try to focus in school when the emotions from every awful memory come back to you. You try to do well when you change schools more times than you can count, when you have to worry about finding the means to eat, finding a place to sleep. You try to pretend that you are okay when on the inside you feel hollow and damaged.
I wanted to kill myself. But there was always something that kept me from doing it. You could call it hope, resilience, or just plain stubbornness. Luckily before I had completely given up, I came across YouthHope. I met kids that were just as messed up as me. I met someone who cared about my pain, someone who told me that I didn’t deserve to go through all of this.
Slowly, as I’ve gone through this process, I don’t feel as broken. The memories and pain are more manageable. I know it comes from finally being cared for, listened to. I’ve never had people encourage me to pursue my dreams. I’ve never had people help me find a job, or get healthcare, or even tutor me through high school. Somehow they helped me out of my downward spiral and I can’t even express how grateful I am.
One of my favorite quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”. Next time you see someone on the streets- someone dirty, maybe crazy, someone you know is an addict-remember that we all have battles we are dealing with. What you see is only a glimpse of the brokenness and pain that’s on the inside. Thank you YouthHope for seeing beyond our damaged selves and for recognizing that we aren’t a lost cause.
My Dreams Are Bigger Than My Circumstances.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I get asked that question a lot. From teachers, to old ladies at the store, people always want to know my dreams. I tell them that I’m going to be a doctor or an astronaut. Even for your “average” teen, these are big dreams, but where I come from, these are pretty much impossible dreams. My dad has been in jail most of my life, I’ve watched my mom do drugs, we’ve lived on the street for months at a time, and I’ve been beat by my uncle.
I think if you would of asked me my future plans 5 years ago, I would of answered “just live to see my 18th birthday”. Those nights living on the streets, those days of my mom taking so many drugs that she passes out, I didn’t think I would survive let alone thrive by chasing my dreams.
But then I found YouthHope. YouthHope has become my family. They are the people I go to when I get good grades on my report card or when I’m having a bad day and I need a hug. They are the people I go to when I need help with school. I know that they will be there for me. They will never turn their back on me or give up on me. They will help me.
Since I started going to YouthHope, I feel like I have become a kid again. I’ve gotten back into sports at my school, I receive bus passes monthly so I don’t have to miss school, and my dreams have come alive. YouthHope is helping me get ready for college by finding grants so I don’t have to worry about finances when I start. They also helped me get out of my house to live with someone who will help me. I live with my friends grandma who treats me like her son and loves and takes care of me.
Heidi always tells me “When I go to the doctor in 10 years, I hope you’re the one saving my life”. YouthHope believes in me and is cheering me on from the sidelines. Now I just have to choose do I want to go to space or save people’s lives? Mmmmm….
I mean, I guess I need help.
I come from a large family. We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of love. My parents don’t work. My siblings don’t work. We just don’t have a lot. We sometimes don’t eat breakfast or dinner. I get free lunch at school and that usually will help me get through the day. When I get sick, my mom will do her best to help me at home, but we don’t go to the doctor. We kind of just get by with what we have. My parents tell us everyday that it will get better, but I’m starting to doubt it. Some days are hard, but I really haven’t known any different.
One day at school, my friend mentioned that he was going to “Heidi’s”. I had no idea who Heidi was, but I thought I would check it out. When I got to YouthHope, I was flooded with love and kindness. No one knew me, but everyone there was so nice. They fed me, talked to me, and found out ways that they could help. Heidi sat down with me and started asking me questions. I really didn’t think I needed help, but once she started asking questions like “when was the last time you went to the doctor?” and “Do you need groceries for your family?” I realized that maybe I do need help.
The first thing that YouthHope helped me with was food. I relied on their meals because I wasn’t sure if I would eat dinner at home. YouthHope always had food. I never had to worry about showing up and not being fed. I love that about YouthHope. They don’t break promises.
I also get groceries from YouthHope each week. I take home food that will help my family eat. I take home rice, beans, potatoes, and anything else that looks good. It has really helped my family. My mom is able to cook more meals at home and my family gets to eat more often. The best part is that I get to pick out the food so I always like the meals my mom makes.
YouthHope also helped me with my health. They took me to the doctor and I found out that I need glasses. I didn’t know that I needed glasses, but once YouthHope helped me get a pair I was actually able to see! I didn’t realize that you were supposed to see the mountains or see the birds flying in the air. I feel so much better!
Even though I don’t do drugs or I don’t live on the street, YouthHope helped me. No, I don’t need an intervention, or rehab, or housing, but I still needed help and I got help. YouthHope took time to figure out how they could help and then they followed through.
I love going to YouthHope to eat and hang out with my friends, but what I love the most is that I don’t have to worry. If I need help, I know where I can find it!