They Did for Me What My Own Family Wouldn’t Do
Over the past four decades, YouthLink has connected thousands of young people to the services they need to transition from homeless to hopeful. Many of these young people graduate from YouthLink empowered and ready to continue on their journeys of self-reliance. We reconnected with some of our alumni to talk about their experiences with YouthLink and to find out where they are now.
When Teresa boarded a bus in Florida with a few bags of clothes and her service dog, she expected to be welcomed into the open arms of her parents in Minnesota. Unfortunately, her actual reception was anything but warm.
“I was diagnosed with a panic disorder back when I was 19, including severe agoraphobia. For two years I couldn’t leave the house. I was living in Florida with my parents until they decided to move to Minnesota. My sister said I could stay with her for a couple months. That worked out until she beat me. She ended up in jail. I ended up on the streets. My parents told me to come to Minnesota. That they would take care of me—no problem.
“It was snowing in October in Minnesota when I arrived. I’m coming from Florida, so all I have on are flip flops and toe socks. My parents pick me up at the bus station and take me straight to a homeless shelter. All I could think was ‘This is your definition of taking care of me?’”
During her first few weeks of homelessness, Teresa worked with a case manager from Catholic Charities who helped her start therapy for her panic disorder, worked to get her service dog certified with the State of Minnesota, and introduced her to YouthLink.
“Once I was a little bit better, my case manager, Nancy, was like: ‘I want to get you into this program. You gotta meet Marc at YouthLink.’”
Teresa’s first few experiences with YouthLink were challenging, but she stuck it out. “I felt out of place. I felt like I was too old. I thought I didn’t deserve to be there. But after talking to Marc and hearing about the program, I felt better. It was a really low point in my life, so of course I felt bad about everything. He helped turn that negative feeling into a positive experience. I was trying hard to do what I had to do on my end to become a functioning member of society again.”
Her determination, along with a little help from YouthLink and Catholic Charities, would turn things around for Teresa. “Marc ended up getting me into an apartment and helped me get a job. I started working again. I started driving again. I was going to therapy. Eventually, I was no longer dependent on my service dog.”
None of it was easy. Especially because Teresa had to navigate family difficulties along the way. “During all of this, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died a month later. Marc and Nancy were there for me through all of that.”
Eventually, Teresa was ready to return to Florida, but that didn’t mean leaving her Minnesota support system behind. “When I got back, I struggled a little bit, but Marc was always there for me. Even just through text messages or social media. Just to keep guiding me.”
With the continued support and her trademark perseverance, Teresa has continued to make progress. “I’ve had a roof over my head for the past eight years. I’ve had a steady job the entire time I’ve been back in Florida and I’m now a supervisor. I’ve fully recovered from my disorder. I have a daughter—and we’re saving to buy a house.”
Teresa learned a lot during her time with YouthLink, but more than anything it instilled in her a desire to give back—to become one of the supporters that make programs like YouthLink possible. “It’s just a huge part of my life now. I’m doing everything I can to repay the karma. We need to make sure programs like YouthLink stay around.
“There are so many homeless people and children—and, if we can teach children at a young age that we care about them, we can teach them how to get themselves out of homelessness so they can be functioning members of society.”
Looking back, she considers how different her life would have been if she had never gotten on that bus. “It was not a fun trip. It was a hell of a situation to have to go through. But I ended up getting the help I needed. Marc and Nancy saved my life and my sanity. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for them. I would still be homeless. They literally changed my life. They did for me what my own family wouldn’t do.”