"The glare of the policeman’s flashlight woke me, as I slept on my pull-out bed inside a closet in the house. It was my first real indication that life was about to change."
I lost contact with my father at the age of four. And my mom was incarcerated when I was thirteen. The glare of the policeman’s flashlight woke me, as I slept on my pull-out bed inside a closet in the house. It was my first real indication that life was about to change. It happened the summer of my eighth-grade year, just before going into high school.
My mom had just been arrested, which left me with five siblings and my Aunts.
My mom had just been arrested, which left me with five siblings and my two Aunts. They couldn’t provide for my well-being. Financially they just couldn’t. I was never assigned a legal guardian.
I lived off of child support, using that to provide for myself and help the house. I had brothers and sisters who would help me with school things at the beginning of the year, but they lived with their dads or with their friends. So I couldn’t rely on them.
Life was chaotic and lonely. My siblings left the house, the situation got worse; the only income was child support. I refused to be home, so I threw myself into school sports, programs, and clubs.
I would do things to not be home because of how the living situation was. Life was chaotic and lonely. My siblings left the house, the situation got worse; the only income was child support. I refused to be home, so I threw myself into school sports, programs, and clubs.
To be honest, I thought it was normal what I was going through. Not in the sense that everybody went through it. I knew that’s not how it was meant to be. A child should have their parents when they’re growing up to take care of them. But I was used to it. It had been going on since I was thirteen.
My senior year, a teacher asked what drove me to work so hard. I shared my story with her.
And then one day a teacher reached out to me. I was the type of student in class who would finish my work early and then I would apply for scholarships or be doing something to get ahead of the game. My history teacher noticed. When I asked her for help to get my voter registration, she brought me outside of the class and asked, “What’s going on?” That’s when I shared my story with her.
That teacher shared my story with the school counselor who connected me to Project UPSTART where I met other unaccompanied youth like me.
That teacher shared my story with the school counselor who connected me to Project Upstart where I met other unaccompanied youth like me. Project Upstart was a pure blessing for me. It’s a homeless education program meant to help students of the homeless status get through high school and even transition out of college.
Project Upstart really sought to come in and provide any assistance. They were just ready to help which I was super grateful for. At the time it was Anna who’d periodically visit the school. We’d have one-on-one conversations. She would keep me in the loop. They paid for high school trips like senior breakfast, grad bash, senior picnic, things like that.
I applied to FIU, where I graduated with my master’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism.
Project Upstart also helped me get connected in college. I applied to FIU, where I graduated with my master’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism. They got me connected to FIU’s Fostering Panther Pride program which is kind of like a continuation but for the collegiate level. It had really great benefits like housing scholarships, mentors, and stipends. You know, they provided everything I needed.
I was invited to my first Homeless Awareness Day in 2018. I spoke to a whole bunch of high school students at an auditorium in St. Thomas, including my own high school, so there were some familiar faces. It was really a blessing of an opportunity.
I think what made it easy for me to share my story was the impact and influence I can have on other people. I was never ashamed of it. Realizing that this is much bigger than myself, it would really be selfish of me just to keep it all in because there may be people who have gone through this or who are going through the same thing.
On October 7, it made a year at my current job at Wix. It’s been way better than I expected. You know, it’s my first full time job, which I was really excited for. At FIU I majored in hospitality and tourism management, and it’s kind of a switch up. But funny enough, I fell in love with the tech industry while working part time at Apple. The people skills, serving others, putting others above yourself—I was able to take those aspects of hospitality and bring it into this industry.
I would say to any student or anyone going through it—stay strong, stay focused, stay engaged. Try to have compassion and empathy for other students because you don’t know what’s going on at home. I’m really grateful for teachers because they really go out of their way. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it weren’t for my teachers. Don’t give up. Do what you’re supposed to and trust me things will pay off.
I see God’s relentless pursuit of me, my family and I have great hope for my future.