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Leanna was seven years old when the state took her from her mother. A little girl with a heart condition, a result of her mother’s drug addiction, Leanna faced enough challenges in her few years to last a lifetime. When she was adopted by a single mom, Leanna had a second chance at a safe childhood in a loving home.

But after moving in with her adoptive mom and her 13-year-old son, life changed again. Her new mom married the boy’s father.

All should have been well, stable, and better for Leanna. But her new dad craved control. And so began Leanna’s long, lonely journey through betrayal and danger.

Her dad’s pattern of control and abuse gained footing. Leanna was subjected to his unwanted attentions within a year of her adoption. “He told me it was okay, because I wasn’t his real daughter,” she recalls. Like all young children, she was vulnerable and did what she was told, until, at 13, she was able to tell her mother about the abuse. “But my mom didn’t believe me,” says Leanna.

When her mother’s work schedule left her alone with her dad, Leanna was on her own to defend herself. Calling authorities or talking to school counselors did no good—she struggled against their skepticism, too. With no one to believe or help her, the abuse continued until she left home at 16.

Leanna quickly found herself in a group of kids who became her allies and her support. On her own to find shelter and income, she lived dangerously, adopting gang mentality and risky behaviors. Vulnerable and dependent, she fell into a destructive pattern of gang crime.

When she was 17, a gunshot wound to her shoulder brought life into painful focus. She managed to leave the gang, but had no stable place to live. While staying with another homeless youth in a foreclosed apartment building, she learned about the services offered at YouthLink. She decided to check it out.

“When I got to YouthLink,” she recalls, “I was nervous! But my caseworker, Hallie, is amazing. I didn’t really trust that there were people who just wanted to help me be safe and secure, and to have a future. Hallie helped me get my GED—I took all of the tests and passed in one day.” She adds, “I think I’ve used just about everything here—the clothing closet, hygiene supplies, GED tutoring and vouchers, the health clinic, the Internet. It’s all in one place, and the people here know me. They really care about me.”

Hallie also helped Leanna find her current job as a manager at a local restaurant. Now able to pay rent, she shares an apartment in South Minneapolis with a roommate and two beloved adopted pups.

Leanna hopes to take her lifelong love of dogs and horses to the next level. With Hallie’s help, she’s investigating classes in pet grooming. Eventually, Leanna plans to have her own unique business helping horse owners find just the right saddle for their four-legged friends.

YouthLink staff members have been listening ears, advocates, and a reliable source of support for Leanna. They’re the first adults in her life to believe her, and to believe in her. Sunny and confident, Leanna is excited about her future. “Some people dwell on the past, but I’m not going to be disappointed. I’m determined to make it.”

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