- Posted February 5, 2014 by
San Marcos, California
"I TRULY HAD NO PLACE TO CALL HOME...UNTIL I FOUND CASA DE AMPARO."
To the little town of Templeton, California, my family appeared to be happy, healthy, and very active in sports, from Pop Warner football to basketball to cheerleading. But no one knew about the hell on 146 1st Street. Behind those walls were many secrets, such as how my life was engulfed with drug and alcohol abuse as well as verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
Both of my parents were alcoholics. My father was the functional alcoholic, while my mom had what we called the disease, since she never wanted to drink and could not control herself. I had to witness my mom go from sober to a drunken stupor that would last for weeks on end. When I was only 8, I protected my mom by holding her down to stop her from running away from home, locking her in the bathroom with me and begging her to stop drinking before it would be the death of her, and stopping her from committing suicide with a kitchen knife. She truly tried to stay away from alcohol, but my father would force her to drink by shoving it in her face, threatening her, and sometimes beating her while forcing me to watch. As a child I thought this was a normal life, but as an adult I know it was far from it and these visions will haunt me for the rest of my life.
On Tuesday, March 14, 2000, my mother drove my brother and I to school. Upon dropping us off, she turned and told my brother “I love you” and gave him a kiss and then told me “I love you,” but being a stubborn 13 year old, I didn’t say it back. Instead, I just walked away and continued onto school. I felt justified because I thought she had been drinking. That afternoon my brother and I walked home together, which rarely happened since he would normally ride his bike to school and get home earlier than I would. But that Tuesday was different. As we walked into our home, we found my mom lying on the living room floor, and we ran to her side and asked her to wake up. But she never did. My mother was pronounced dead shortly after 4pm. Her autopsy showed she died between 1pm and 3pm; my brother and I arrived home just minutes after three.
Within one year of my mother’s death, my father made us pack up with only clothes that I could fit on my back and a few boxes of pictures. We moved to San Diego County, leaving a fully furnished home that had all of my childhood memories. My dad told us it was a “fresh start”, but in my opinion it was adding fuel to a fire. My father didn’t just drink. He spiraled out of control, lost his job, got on meth, and made us leave the only place we tried to live a normal life in.
My life quickly became motel rooms, Top Ramen, toast and butter. Some nights I would come “home” from practice and we wouldn’t even have a room to stay in. All that would be left for me in the lobby of the motel would be my pile of belongings and a note to reach my father at his disconnected number. I would walk the streets with all my clothes in my bag that I carried every day, along with my mother’s urn and school books. All I had in mind was to find somewhere to shower, do my homework, and get ready for another day of school. Some nights I wouldn’t even know where my brother was. Other nights I was with my father in strangers’ garages to try to stay warm and dry from the rain.
ust when I thought the storm wouldn’t go away, the clouds opened with the chance for my brother and I to live under a roof together again with stability and food! After only a few months my brother and I were separated. My foster dad was very controlling, and verbally and emotionally abusive, especially towards my brother, restraining him to his room for months except for bathroom and meal breaks, until the day my foster dad chose for my brother to go into a boys group home. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t miss my brother and worried that I could be just as easily disposed. But apparently because I had a 3.8 GPA and was extremely good at the three sports I played in, I was worthy of staying. My ultimate goal was to go to college and I dedicated myself to academics and athletics, because it made me look forward to a better tomorrow. I was the average foster kid beating all odds.
Just a few days before graduating from high school, my foster parents told me since “I was so independent, I had two weeks from my graduation date to get out”…words that pierced me like a thousand knives. I didn’t want to be homeless again, so I inquired on some apartments and landlords laughed at my face telling me that I was just a kid and that financial aid was not a reliable source of income. When I relayed the news to my foster dad, his response was that I wasn’t taking this matter seriously enough.
Graduation came and went, and two weeks later, my time was up and I was told to get out despite all my begging and pleading that I would be good. But, hadn’t I already been a good kid?! I never got into any trouble, made national honor roll, never had a grade lower than a C, and I started in all three of my sports as a four-year varsity player, never missing a day of school or practice.
Again, I was faced with my long lost friend…homelessness. Even after I turned down a university scholarship in an attempt to adopt my brother, I was not discouraged from reaching for my dreams. While I started junior college homeless, my circumstances didn’t stop me from playing basketball or working part-time. I stayed with one friend after another, and countless nights in my friends’ cars, while they were inside warm with their families. I truly had no place to call home...until I found Casa de Amparo.
Casa de Amparo was my bridge to stability and I do not know where I would be today without them. I found out about Casa de Amparo at a speaking engagement when I overheard other foster youth talking about a transitional housing program that assists former foster youth. I did my own research and found a number that sent me in the right direction, and then I found Casa de Amparo's New Directions program.
For the first time in a long time, I was able to come to a place every day after work and school that I called home. Casa de Amparo gave me stability, security, and made me feel like I actually belonged somewhere. They embedded budgeting and life skills in me that I didn’t get to learn from my parents or anyone else. New Directions Program Manager Linda Sullivan spent countless evenings after 5pm listening to my troubles and woes. I felt safe and loved back, something that felt so strange, but good.
My biggest reward was seeing my brother thriving in the program years after I graduated from New Directions. Casa de Amparo helped save his life. He had been hospitalized with pancreatitis and the doctor explained that just one more drink could end his life. Alcohol had become my brother’s drug, yet Casa de Amparo gave my brother a safe place of his own away from alcohol. Casa gave us what I now would call a fresh start and a new beginning.
I want to make a big ripple effect by paying it forward. My past made me who I am today. I’m still stubborn, but in a good way. I refuse to lose or fail or quit. I am now a level 12 girls’ group home manager with six at-risk girls ages 14 to 18 who depend on me every day. While working 40 plus hours a week, I am still going to college to be the first to graduate in my family. Once I graduate, I will become a probation officer for juveniles. My challenge to help change people’s futures fuels my passion for success. I want to be someone’s memory or reason they made wise choices.
The only thing that got me through this crazy story is love. Whether I am rich or poor, no matter what I've been through, love never fails. The purpose of this story is