Julissa's Story - Stitching Her Own Life
From an early age, Julissa figured out that she could live her life ruled either by her fears or by her dreams. She chose to dig down deep and build the inner strength to live by her dreams, even in the hardest times. Casa Alianza Mexico was there — “a second family”— to support and encourage her and help her find the tools she needed to reach for her dreams and aspire to more.
“There were moments when I felt my goals were so far away; times when I said, ‘I can’t do it.’ But I believe every person has a unique force or strength we can call on. I never lost sight of my dreams, aspirations, and desires,” Julissa, now 21, says. “I couldn’t stay where I was, tormented by my past.”
Julissa was just an infant when Mexico’s Ministry of the Family removed her from her home and family of origin. She spent years living in a government-run facility in her native Durango, a state in the country’s northwest. When she became a teenager, Julissa could see that if she remained where she was, the prospects were slim that she would transition successfully to adulthood and independence.
She combed the internet for an alternative and found Casa Alianza Mexico (CAM), our Covenant House site in the Mexican capital. Julissa says “it was a big decision” to leave the place where she’d been raised and take a chance on a place she didn’t know. But her mind was made up. Her caretakers consented, and CAM sent a staff person to drive the more than 550 miles to Durango to pick her up.
“I knew nothing when I came to Mexico City. It was like learning to read when you don’t know how,” she recalls. “I knew I had goals and objectives when I arrived, but I didn’t know how I would achieve them. At CAM, suddenly, I had a whole team to support me.”
CAM provided Julissa with the personalized care we bring to every child and teen who resides with us. Like all our Covenant House sites, CAM provides much more than shelter. Our vital services and programs include medical and mental health care, education services, recreation, alternative therapies, and job readiness programs, among many other opportunities.
Julissa climbed through CAM’s three levels of care, from integration and stabilization to the identification strengths and preparation for independence. When she had mastered these, she moved into CAM’s Independent Living program and her own supported apartment.
“I was frightened to live outside on my own,” Julissa remembers. “But there were other former CAM residents who lived in the same building. The most important thing at that moment was to have someone to talk to.”
Then another opportunity presented itself to Julissa through Casa Alianza Mexico. For 14 years, CAM has helped residents apply for a competitive training program in tailoring with the Italian designer Zegna through their Mexico City company, Tarsa. When Julissa applied, she was one of 16 young people accepted into the yearlong program, and one of only eight who completed it.
“The first time I used the electric sewing machine at Tarsa was the first time I had ever used one,” she says. “We learned to use several industrial machines. The training was tough. I had to be responsible and consistent. It took me two hours to get to the training center and two hours to get back, and I was going to school in the afternoon. It was complicated, but very useful. I feel I came out of it very successfully.”
At the end of the training, participants had to create two men’s suits, two pairs of men’s slacks, and a woman’s business outfit. Julissa completed all the pieces and was promptly hired by a local company to create high quality, custom-made men’s suits.
Two years later, she is still with the same company. She supports herself in her own apartment now, and sees herself as a mentor for the children and youth who have come after her at Casa Alianza Mexico. Whenever she can, she attends the monthly gathering of youth and alumni at CAM.
“I remember going to those meetings when I was in level three,” she says. “When the earlier generations came and shared their stories, I thought, ‘I want to own a phone, a car, like them, and to have the confidence to stand before a group.’ It gives you hope. Now it’s my turn to stand in front of them and share my life.”
This poised and confident young woman has not stopped dreaming. Later this year, Julissa will start college, where she will major in criminology and ballistics, her response to the ongoing and widespread violence in her home state of Durango.
“Economically, I’m very stable, but I feel you always have to dream about more,” she says. “Casa Alianza Mexico has left me with so many people I will never forget. I’m grateful for all they invested in me, so I could be who I am today. I owe them a great debt. They helped me at every moment, to this very day.”