I was born in New York City, but I moved to South Carolina at the age of 2 to be raised by my Grandma. I moved back to NYC at age 5 to live with my mother. My mother was a drug user while my abusive stepfather was a functional addict.
During the summer before third grade, the family shelter where I lived caught on fire. My siblings and I were found unattended, and we were removed from our home and put into foster care. It was actually me who caused the fire. I was attempting to use a hot plate to make formula for my 4-month-old sister, who I was caring for at the time. I was 7 years old.
From the time I entered the system, I felt like a burden. All of the family members who agreed to foster me made sure to remind me that I was not their kid. I moved around between my father and mother's relatives, and never had any stability. I felt unloved and unwanted. I was never able to return to my mother’s home because she was still with my stepfather, and it was an unsafe environment.
At age 8, with four of my siblings (I have 10 siblings in total), I was able to find salvation with a friend of my Grandma. She knew how to take care of us and I was happy to be settled into a school routine. But, at age 12, I was removed from her care when my father was found, and I went to live with him. He died of AIDS when I was in the eighth grade.
I got pregnant at age 16 and tried to start a life with my son's father. He had a nice home, and I was too naïve to question his income and lifestyle. I was just so happy to have some stability for me and my baby. Within a year, he was imprisoned for crimes I should have guessed. Living in his home was no longer an option.
I knew I’d be left homeless and unable to go to school because of the baby, so I became very resourceful. I searched for shelters for me and my son, but most places would only take him. I was desperate to find a way to protect him while continuing to pursue my high school diploma.
One day, when I was at the end of my rope—I was out of formula, out of diapers, and out of strength—I saw an ad for Covenant House on the subway. I remembered seeing an ad for the same youth shelter a while back, and it stayed in my head. At the time, I was filled with so much fear, sadness, and stress. I don’t remember where I was going on the subway that day, but I looked down at my son who was strapped to my chest and decided we deserved a better life.
So, I did it. I traveled to a part of the city I had never been to before and walked through the front door of Covenant House. At first, I was convinced it was another place that would try to separate me and my son, but that wasn’t the case at all. The woman I spoke with at intake asked me questions, showed me respect, and gave me strength.
The decision to come here changed my life. This happened in 1996. I stayed at the Mother and Child shelter for three months and then moved briefly to a transitional living shelter with a few other single mothers pursuing a high school diploma. We all worked together to apply for subsidized housing, and I was lucky enough to find an apartment in Chinatown, where I have lived ever since. From ages 7 to 17, I moved 10 times, and I have been stable for over 20!
When I was 33 years old, I got back in touch with my mother and made amends. She was still using. She died of a heart attack two years after we reconnected. Sadly, she never wanted to talk about "our past," and my heart still hurts from it. She earned a B.A. in psychology and never used it for any good. To give up that kind of opportunity frustrates me.
Today, I am hard at work as a bookkeeper at a Painter's Union, where my eldest son (the one who was with me at Covenant House) is a union member. I have two other children, from another father, who are doing very well and always feel loved. My children's fathers are not in our lives. I manage my household alone, and I put every one of my children's needs before my own.
My neighbors all know that my door is always open, the food in my fridge is always available to those who are hungry and the clothing in my drawers will wrap someone with warmth. I don’t have a lot to give, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give it all away because I know firsthand what it feels like to be homeless and hungry.
I know a lot of people dream about having a big career and an important title. For me, well, my dream includes an important title, but it isn’t connected to a paycheck. Honestly, I wish I was in a situation to be a stay-at-home mother. I would love to be able to take care of my children full time, and I dream of extending myself to any child in need of love, attention, and direction.