This summer, a few things occurred that stopped me dead in my tracks and forced me to face the reality that lives all around us.
Her name is Sarah*.
A phone call from our son asking if a friend could sleepover. By sheer instinct, I knew the omission of the pronoun led me to the conclusion that his friend was a girl. I met her the following morning. As she walked down the stairs to leave quietly, my son introduced her. I noticed her height but more importantly, how thin she was. I asked her if she wanted something to eat, and she politely declined. She thanked me for allowing her to spend the night, and she left.
I immediately pounced with a million questions, and to my heartbreak, the answers devastated me. You see, Sarah was homeless. She had been living out of her car for a few weeks and was bouncing from home to home of any friend that would let her sleepover, and when she exhausted her welcome, she would just sleep in her car. I will spare you the devastating statistics on young adults that age out of foster care, but Sarah was just that. A young adult that lived her entire life in the Foster Care system.
She spent three nights in our home. We talked and she shared her life at that moment. When she aged out, she moved in with her boyfriend; her boyfriend moved away, she moved in with a friend and her friend’s boyfriend, they broke up and there she was…homeless. I asked Sarah if she had ever met her mom or dad. She said no, she was placed into foster care as a newborn. She had never met her birth mom or any family and the foster family that she did live with for a bit moved away, leaving her behind. Can you imagine that? A 20-year-old all alone with absolutely no family to call her own. I was devastated. I immediately started contacting a few of the folks I knew who might be able to assist Sarah. I suggested that she go back to DCF and ask for some kind of assistance and I am happy to write that she was able to be placed into transitional housing for youth that age out of the System. She can live there until she turns 21.
Then once again she’s on her own.
Though Sarah was homeless, she has a job and is in school. She’s doing what is required or expected of her to survive her life’s journey. I was immediately challenged! What am I doing to help!! Yes, I offered her a place to sleep and eat, but that was not enough. How am I offering a hand-up to so many who need it not because they are lazy, but because they have been dealt a hard blow?
I started volunteering at our local Shelter. I started showing up for those who needed a smile, a meal, a hello, a simple word of encouragement. Look around you, I am sure there is someone that needs a helping hand. Don’t wait for brokenness to come walking into your door. Go to the broken and help them put themselves back together.
Don’t ever judge a book by any cover…read some pages first.
-Annette Ortiz Mata
*Sarah – name change to respect her privacy