I’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 naive 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, but most 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, y Friend’s Place’s 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, y Friend’s Place’s was always there.
I’m not sure how y Friend’s Place’s 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, My Friend’s Place found a donor to provide me with a $1,000 scholarship, which I gratefully used for childcare and books. After I graduated, My Friend’s Place 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 My Friend’s Place when I was a young mom almost 14 years ago, but from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate their gifts.