Family Isn’t Always Blood
I don’t understand the phrase “Home is where the heart is” because I have never had a home. I’ve never had a house either. I’ve lived on the streets since I was 6. And before that, we lived with different relatives and jumped from house to house. My dad has been in prison my whole life because of drug charges and other things that I don’t want to know about. Its always been just me and my mom.
My days of growing up always included being left along for most of the day. My mom has made it clear my whole life that I was not a planned baby. She never wanted me and would not make sacrifices for me. So she goes off during the day and does drugs and leaves me at home.
Since I’ve never had a home or a family, every day I go out and I search for family. I’ve been involved in many gangs because they are more like family to me than anything else I have experienced. Ya we’ve done many things that I regret, but I knew that from the beginning, they would have my back and treat me like I mattered.
Somehow I managed to graduate high school even though my home life was chaotic. We moved to Redlands a few years ago and I heard about YouthHope very early on. I started going to Youthhope because I wanted some free food and to hang out with my friends. I’m a very charming person so it was easy to go in, eat, hang out, and leave without having to open up to anyone.
After attending a few months, I found myself talking to Heidi one-on-one. She knew that there was more to me than just a charming, happy, young man. I opened up to her and she wanted to help me. I’ve never had someone offer to help me. To help me find a job, teach me how to save money, love me, and not judge me. It was the first time that I actually felt like I had family. Heidi felt like the mom that I never had. She genuinely wanted the best for me and was willing to do whatever she could to make it happen.
So now I come to YouthHope all the time. I come for the basic stuff like food and clothes, but I also come for the stuff that’s going to help me build a better future. I come for job training, resume writing, for Food Handlers Certificate, and for the support.
I have a long ways to go, but I also have come a long ways. With the help of YouthHope, I know that I will eventually have my own home and my own family.
The Hope in YouthHope
Growing up, alcohol was always around. Everyone I knew, everyone I cared about, everyone I have tried to trust has had a drinking problem. I don’t remember the first drink, but now I cant imagine life without it. I also don’t remember the reasons I first started, but it probably had to do with all the abuse I was living through. Anything, even being blacked-out, was better than dealing with real life. By my mid-teens I was drinking so much that I couldn’t keep up with school. I wasn’t really going anymore anyway so I dropped out.
I spent the next few years bouncing around from job to job. Its hard to hold onto anything, especially after the first few paychecks. You need money to get ahead, but it can also hold you back. eventually spent it on the wrong things. Eventually my aunt got really worried about me. She has had a rough life as well, and didn’t want to see me go down the same road. She convinced me to go to a sober living house, and for awhile I volunteered for the organization. It wasn’t permanent though, and as soon as I had to leave I ended up on the streets again.
I found out about YouthHope through friends. They told me about this place where you could come and get things you need. I was living out of my van at the time. I was drinking again. I needed the basics. They had everything, and before they even knew my story they welcomed me in. Since I started coming I’ve had my ups and downs. I got a job a few months back and everyone was super encouraging. it didn’t last (because of the same problems I’ve always had) and the people at YouthHope were still there for me. The streets have no mervy, and having a place like YouthHope to rest and be safe, even for a few hours, is beyond belief. Since then I’ve been here almost every day.
Eventually, if you come enough, Heidi will ask if you are willing to do a youth survey. This is an anonymous questionnaire that helps YouthHope generate statistics for grant writing. Checking all those boxes was definitely not fun:
Types of abuse? All of the above.
Drugs? Most of them.
Alcohol? Every day.
Run away or kicked out? Both, often, and from everywhere
The final question though, just says “what are some other ways can we help you?” All the usual options are there (food, housing, clothing, etc.) but the one that stuck out the most to me is this: Friendship. They actually ask you if you just need friendship, and more than that, they are willing to provide it!
Frienship: this is why I come to YouthHope. Because no matter how bad things are, I know someone will be happy to see me, I can get a hug, and I know people at YouthHope love me. I’m not totally convinced yet, but there might be something to this “hope” idea after all.
It Takes Time
A question we get at YouthHope often is “How many youth actually become self-sufficient?” In a day and age where we can get a burger in minutes, get an online order in hours, and lose inches around your waist in days, its hard to remember that some things just take time.
We firmly believe that our youth succeed at different rates. Some youth will come in and immediately get to work at filling out job applications, completing food handlers courses, and get a job the next day. But for many of our youth, it takes a bit longer. Some days, weeks, months, or years like Jill.
Jill came to YouthHope over 7 years ago. She came as a spectator with some friends to check out what we did. She would enjoy the hot meal, but leave very quickly. We got to know Jill very slowly. She lived on the street, sometimes couch surfed, or sometimes a family member would take her in for a few months. She was a heavy drug user and had no intention of quitting. She enjoyed her life and her friends. So we waited.
Years went by and Jill was still at almost every hot meal eating, hanging out, but not wanting to move forward. So we continued to wait.
A few weeks ago, Jill hit rock bottom. She got dumped by her boyfriend, she got kicked out of her cousins house, she tried quitting drugs on her own, but just kept relapsing. She was done.
She came to YouthHope wanting HELP! She wants to go to rehab, finish school, get a job, she wants to be clean and move forward.
Jill is currently researching what rehab she wants to attend.
Jill’s story of success took over 7 years. Some of our youth may take longer. We don’t know the end of our youth’s story, but we know that we will be there with them cheering them on and helping them when they are ready.
Stories like Jill’s inspire us to continue with our tougher youth. To keep showing up, keep loving on them, and continue feeding them because they will move forward when they are ready.
My story is a little different. If you were to look at me, you wouldn’t think that I’m different. You wouldn’t think of the hell that I live every day. I look normal.
I go to school. I have straight A’s. I do my homework and projects and participate like a normal teenager. I love school! I look forward to it everyday and stay as late as I can everyday. Because that’s usually my only human interaction the whole week.
My mom is bipolar and has schizophrenia. She never leaves the house and refuses to talk to me. The only time I will hear from her is if she tells me to go kill myself or that she’s going to kill me. I try and stay away from her and stay in my room, but our house is only so big.
My dad died 3 years ago from diabetes. He was my only hope for a semi-normal life. My mom has told me for the past 2 1/2 years that my dad died from suicide and I should follow in his steps. I found out that she has been lying this whole time.
My mom doesn’t work and receives food stamps, but she refuses to use them. We don’t have food in the house except bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and some stale crackers.
When I first heard about YouthHope, I wasn’t sure that they could help me. I have such a unique situation. But they did help me. They would let me come to YouthHope everyday to work on homework and hang out. I got to talk to the staff, volunteers, and other youth. I felt normal for the first time. I also ate every time I was there and they would give me food giftcards so I could survive the weekend.
The biggest thing they did was listen and believe me when I told them what was going on at home. They helped me start a paper trail of the abuse that I was receiving from my mom. They worked with the Redlands Police Dept. and Social Services to get me out of my current situation.
Today, I’m writing this from my new foster home. I’m finally free. I don’t know what the next 6 months will hold, but today I’m safe, I’m fed, and I’m loved. Thank you YouthHope!
Where Do I Go From Here?
From the moment I was born, I’ve faced an uphill battle in life. Nothing is easy for me and I’m always fighting the current.
My moms a prostitute and my dad cooks meth. Yep. That’s what I was born into. How am I supposed to be successful member of society when the two most important people in my life have failed at life?
I spent most of my time growing up with my Uncle who, although better than my mom and dad, is very involved in a well known gang. My upbringing included a lot of alone time and raising myself. I was more of an inconvenience to everyone around me.
When I turned 16, I left my uncles house. I got involved with drugs and lived in my car. I have tried many times to get my life together. My most successful attempt was when I went to join a well known gang. I thought I would be good at it since my uncle is so involved. When I found out the things you have to do to join, I immediately left. It was too much for even me.
I met Heidi when she was feeding youth in the park. I happened to be walking through when I saw some of my friends eating. I stopped and got some food. Heidi and all of the staff at volunteers at YouthHope were so welcoming and loving. They offered to help in any way possible.
It’s been a few years and I still just accept the free meals and the free clothes at YouthHope. I don’t know what is next in my life. I’m scared to quit drugs because I don’t want to relapse. I have an opportunity to move to Arizona with my Grandma, and YouthHope is encouraging me to start a new life there.
I know that I don’t want this the rest of my life, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I wasn’t taught basic life skills and how to have a successful future.
That’s why I’m glad YouthHope exists. They have helped me and continue to help me with the basic stuff. Food, clothes, skills on how to move forward.
I don’t know where I will be tomorrow, but I know YouthHope will be there to help me and to cheer me on.
On April 13, 2016, the unthinkable happened. We lost one of our beloved youth, Rueben.
Rueben was everyone’s best friend. He made everyone feel welcome and never had a mean thing to say. He loved and was loved by all. He was always a peacekeeper and always saw the positive. He would make himself available to anyone who needed him and never judged someone because of the struggles they went through.
When he would come to YouthHope, he would greet everyone and hug all of the volunteers. He made sure to thank us for all of the help he received and would always end with “you rock”. He made any room light up with his personality and smile.
Rueben started coming to YouthHope in 2010. He came as a shy, timid boy who had a past that no one should have to endure. Over the years, we saw him grow and saw what future he had in store. A future of hope and success. He was determined to change his life around for the better. He worked so hard to leave his past.
Rueben had overcome so many obstacles in his life. He went from living on the streets to living in a house, he graduated high school, was going to Crafton, he started seeing a counselor, and working a part time job. He had such a bright future, but it was blurred by the darkness of his past.
He had been through so much and we are so saddened that his achievements and life were abruptly ended.
Rueben impacted all of our lives and we miss him dearly. Rest in Peace Rueben.
Dear Future Self- I Will Succeed
There comes a time in everyone’s life where you have to stop looking at your current situation and start to look at your future. Regardless of where you come from, you can dream big. That’s where I found myself when I was 17.
I grew up in a very poor home. My mom didn’t work and my dad could never keep a job long enough to provide for us. We lived in a very old house where things would always break, but we didn’t have the money to fix them.
Our water heater broke so we just always took cold showers. The door hinge broke so we never really were able to close the front door. These things were livable, but one day I came home from school and there was water pouring out of the front door. A pipe had broke and there was a foot of water around the whole house. I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford to replace everything in our house and I was devastated.
I wanted to help my parents so bad, but didn’t know how to. One of my friends at school told me about YouthHope and how they might be able to help me.
I went to YouthHope one day after school. Not only was I shocked at how nice everyone was to me, but I couldn’t believe that there was a meal that I could eat there, there were clothes that I could have, canned food that I could take with me, and Heidi was willing to help me with whatever I needed.
YouthHope helped me get a new bed and dressed and that was just the beginning of what YouthHope helped me with.
When I told Heidi about the struggles with my family, she immediately helped me. She had a volunteer help me write a resume, Judy took me to find a job, and within a week I was working at my new job.
I was so happy that I was able to help with the bills at the house. We were able to fix some of the damage at the house and save a little bit for future problems.
Now Youthhope is helping me get into college. I’m determined to have a better life. I’m determined to help my parents out.
I cant wait to start college and work towards my goal of becoming a nurse. I see my future and its looking bright.
Thank you YouthHope for always being supportive and always choosing to help me and see that I can be successful despite my current circumstances.
Can’t Stop Me
I have this recurring dream where I’m sitting in the back of a dark car with my sister. We are told to be quiet and act like we are sleeping. My parents aren’t with us and we are put into a dark house and left there for days. We are told that we can watch tv or sleep, but we better not open the curtains or go outside.
When I wake up from that dream, I know that its real. Its what got me in this position. Sneaking over the border so we can have a better life.
It didn’t start out as a better life. With an alcoholic, abusive mother and a father who worked all the time, I was left by myself a lot. Things got better after a few years, and my mom became a recovering alcoholic. We became legal and things started to look up.
I was in 6th grade when I met my friend Sarah. We became really close really fast. We ended up playing together all of the time and we opened up to each other about our struggles in the past. One day Sarah and I were walking home from school and she said “I’m gonna kill myself tonight”. I didn’t believe her because we were always joking around. I said “you better not” and that was the end of that conversation. I woke up the next morning with the news that Sarah did kill herself and I did nothing to stop it.
Its been 10 years since that’s happened and I still carry that guilt around. To cope with the grief and pain, I started doing cocaine. I didn’t do it because I was addicted, but it helped me forget about my guilt. I also started drinking and trying other drugs too.
I learned about YouthHope through people at my school. They helped me get into counseling. I loved my counselor and she really helped me heal from many of my past experiences.
It wasn’t until we had a death at YouthHope that I truly found healing. After one of my best friends committed suicide and I found myself completely broken I knew if I didn’t get the help right then, I would be the next victim to suicide.
I showed up at YouthHope and told Heidi that I needed help NOW. She stopped what she was doing and got me into a sober living that same day.
I now have been sober for a month. I attend weekly meetings and have accountability at my house. I still have a long journey ahead. I will always struggle with guild and coping mechanisms, but I wont let that hold me back. I will be successful and live a full life. Just try to stop me!
I Need Time
My mom abused me as a child. She was a terrible mom. CPS got involved early on and took me from her. I’m thankful they did that because I’m not sure if I would be alive right now if they left me there.
But after I was taken from my mom, I got moved around. Every foster home I went to, there were problems. I didn’t get along with my foster parents, or I didn’t get along with the other kids in the house. There was always a reason and I was always the one to have to leave.
In my last foster home, I really tried to behave. I knew where I would be headed if I didn’t stay there. The second week I was there, another kid that was living there started a fight with me. I didn’t know any better than to fight back. The next day, the social worker came for me.
From there, I moved to 3 different group home. Homes where 10-15 boys lived together and are expected to listen to rules and get along. Ya right.
The day I turned 18, I left. They wanted me out soon, but they couldn’t force a child out on the streets before they were 18. I was left with nothing. I made my way to Redlands and after a few months of sleeping in a park, I made some friends.
They took me to YouthHope because they knew that I could get some help. When I first arrived, I was very cautious of everyone there. I never had a constant, supportive person in my life so I didn’t trust anyone at YouthHope either.
Slowly, I started warming up. I would eat the meals that they provided, and I would get clothes. After a few months, I asked for help with my court date. I was shocked that YouthHope would do anything to help me.
They took me to my court appointment and gave me tips on how to make sure it went smoothly.
I now trust the staff and volunteers at YouthHope more than anyone else in my life. They are always a support, and they also give me the space I need.
I know I need to finish my GED and get a job, but I just need more time. Time to figure out what I want to do with life, time to think, time to find myself.
Thank you YouthHope for being a resource for me, but for also just loving me when no one else did.