I am the daughter of an 18 year-old, female Guatemalan immigrant and a man that was Indian and African American. I never have seen or met my biological father. I lived with my mother and maternal grandmother until the age of 4 years old. When I was 5, my mother was arrested for several severe charges and my aunt adopted me. In this adoptive home I was abused: physically, sexually, and mentally.
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I came out when I was 18 years old. Unfortunately, later that day I came home to all of my belongings in trash bags and my social worker was on her way. I cried and regretted coming out because I knew no one would want an older youth who wasn’t straight. Luckily for me, there was a home in Downey that was willing to take me in. She is the woman I call my Ma. She took me in and changed my life for the better. She molded me to be the young lady I am today. She did everything my mother was supposed to do. She is Catholic, but she loves me as I am. I was lucky to find my family in my last foster home.
I emancipated Foster Care when I was 21. The next 2 years were hard, but I worked and threw myself into volunteering as an advocate and spokesperson for organizations I care deeply about that serve the Undocumented, LGBTQ+, Foster Youth, Homeless, and Disability communities. Volunteering has been an experience like no other, and it has helped me realize that I can do anything that I set my mind to. It showed me that the world actually cares and can unite us as one with the purpose of helping others in need. I love volunteering whenever I am needed, and I believe in being the change you want to see in the world.
I returned to school in Fall 2016 at East Los Angeles College. I also work part-time and volunteer on-campus as much as I can. Since day one I have been part of Latina Transfer and Completion Program, Extended Opportunities and Program, Next Up (CAFYES), Dream Resource Center, ASU Clubs. I know every day I am not only helping myself, but also others. I aim to transfer to a University to major in Communications, and minor in Deaf studies. I want to apply to transfer to CSUN, Fullerton, or Gallaudet University and Jovenes is helping me achieve this goal by paying my rent until I am able to graduate and transfer.
My life has been challenging because of several factors in my background. I am a woman of color from 2 diverse cultures, a lesbian, a foster youth, a survivor of several abuses, and mental illness: Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD. I have never and will continue to not let these challenges define me. I am Jaci.
My mom kicked me out of the house when I was seventeen. Her husband and I didn’t get along so I was acting up partying, coming home late and not listening to her so she asked me to leave the house. My step-father and I not getting along was not the only problem in my family. My mom and sister were not supportive of me coming out as a gay man when I was fourteen. They ridiculed me and told me how wrong it was to be gay.
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For months I slept in parks and ate at The Salvation Army. I showered at family members’ houses, but they were always quick to tell me I couldn’t stay. I ended up at the San Jose Job Corp where I was training as a customer service representative, but then I moved to LA to live with my Uncle.
Once in LA, I was able to continue my training with the Los Angeles Job Corp, but eventually my Uncle ended up kicking me out of his place and I became homeless again. The Los Angeles Job Corp pointed me in the direction of the Technology Youth Source Center. It was hard for me to open up at the Technology Center. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and just kept to myself. Eventually the Youth Center pointed me in the direction of Jovenes Inc. and I began to heal.
When I arrived at the Jovenes Emergency Shelter, I was still very quiet and kept to myself. The hardest thing for me to come to terms with at Jovenes, was learning to accept help without feeling helpless. At first I didn’t want the help and resources that Jovenes offered, but I eventually learned to accept the help and that is what has made all the difference in my success. It was my case managers at the emergency shelter really helped me open up and flourish.
The resources at Jovenes have and continue to help me grow. They even led me on a journey to find out about my father who committed suicide when I was 10. I have since been able to reconnect with his family and begin to heal. I am currently living in permanent supportive housing on Jovenes’ campus and exploring different career pathways where I can make a difference in other young people’s lives. I often volunteer with Wall Las Memorias, and as I build my career, I hope to continue to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community through my story and passions.
“I truly believe each and every employee and volunteer at Jovenes wants to see all of us succeed.”
I came to Los Angeles from Mexico City when I was fifteen years old. With the promise of meeting a father I never knew and of pursuing my dreams of being an architect, I left my family in Mexico and made the terrifying journey across the border alone. I was afraid of everything that comes with making such a journey alone at fifteen, but what I feared most was that my father and I would meet and not get along. My second fear was that of moving to a foreign country where I wouldn’t speak the language at all, yet would have to fend for myself. Despite my fears, I took my chances.
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I moved to a shelter in South Los Angeles in Bernan and 5th next to a church. The two months I lived at that shelter were very stressful since I was still in my senior year of high school and I had a part-time job working at the Food 4 Less. I had to leave the shelter by 6:30 a.m. every day with everything I owned in tow because we didn’t have lockers at the shelter. I had to bike seven miles to school.
It was at that time, in my Politics class at school, that we were assigned a Civic Action Project (CAP). The Civic Action Project was created by The Constitutional Rights Foundation as a learning program for civics and government. The CAP consists of the class collectively agreeing on a topic we would research and present. The topics were based on a book called No Room of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death and Resistance. We had to choose a subject we felt compelled to argue then form groups, which would either abolish or support a particular policy dealing with the issue we were advocating for.
While my classmates went around the room discussing and proposing different topics we could take up for the project, I decided to speak up. None of my classmates knew my living situation and it would be embarrassing to admit it to them, but at that moment I felt it was important for them to know I was homeless so we could take on the topic of Homelessness and Affordable Housing, which affects more people than you think. I stood up and told them my story. What I told them moved them and everyone soon agreed that our topic would be Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
As preparation of our project presentation at City Council continued, I was still living out of the shelter in South L.A. but in March my Politics teacher referred me to Jovenes, Inc. When I moved to Jovenes, Inc. things became a lot less stressful for me. The difference between the shelter I came from to Jovenes was a great one. It was the little things which made a huge difference. For starters at Jovenes, we had lockers so I could leave my belongings behind. I didn’t have to ride my bike seven miles with all of my belongings on my back anymore. The people at Jovenes were also nice and caring and the resources offered were far better, including the workshops we had to partake in.
The support Jovenes has given me helped me focus on graduating high school and begin to apply to colleges. I am now pursuing my dreams of becoming an architect at East LA College and have moved out of Jovenes’ Transitional Housing into an apartment of my own.
My name is Ryan Cowell and I am going to tell you about the history of my health and body and how I ended up at Jovenes, Inc. At the age of thirteen, I began having chronic back pain. After being urged to see a doctor about it, the doctors determined I had Scheuermann’s Disease, which causes severe back pain and deformity, at times creating a hunchback or roundback appearance. I was also diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, which causes vertigo.
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Someone in my church, who I volunteered with to serve meals to the homeless, recommended I visit The Wellness Center in Los Angeles. At the Wellness Center I was set up with doctors and the Arthritis Foundation. I was told that if I underwent physical therapy, my growing body might be able to stop the effects of Scheuermann’s Disease and in some cases reverse the damage already caused. So, began my daily routine of physical therapy and exercise at The Wellness Center.
While I was going through my therapy, my family was undergoing a stressful situation in which we were facing possible eviction due to a complicated situation, which involved domestic violence. My family and I had already lived in a shelter through my elementary and middle school years and I didn’t want us to have to do that again. Because I was already a regular at The Wellness Center I knew that they had different satellite offices dealing with a whole person’s care, this might include eviction prevention, housing emergencies, access to health insurance and domestic violence amongst many other services. My family was not yet at the point of eviction, but it was heading in that direction. I wanted to have a graceful landing for me and my family, so one day I walked up to the Jovenes, Inc. satellite office at The Wellness Center and I told them my family’s situation. Jovenes, Inc. helped us with eviction prevention until we were able to catch up with the rent and were able to remain in our apartment.
As a client of Jovenes, Inc. though not ever having been housed there, everyone got to know me and me them. They were able to see my talent and potential for working with their clients. At twenty-one, Jovenes, Inc. approached me for their Leadership Development Internship. This internship lasted three-months and it involved assistance with homelessness and client follow-up at the satellite office in The Wellness Center. I felt that Jovenes, Inc. had really gone out on a limb asking me to be part of this internship program. They usually ask clients who are in their transitional shelter, who are more stable to fulfill the requirements of the internship. But, me, I hadn’t even been at their shelters, yet they took a chance on me.
After the three months of the internship were finished, I was asked to come onboard to work the Jovenes, Inc. satellite office at The Wellness Center as a paid employee. My job at the satellite office requires me to interview the clients and determine, depending on their experience and how they got to the situation they’re at, what resources they need and are right for them. I help them with office skills, people skills, and teach them how to create resumes. When I help the clients with their resumes, I find it ironic that Jovenes, Inc., too, helped me to create a resume, which incidentally I ended up using to apply for a position with them.
Now, at twenty-three, after overcoming all the health challenges of my youth, I find myself working for the very same organization which helped me back then. I still have to take care of my body with continuous exercise, and I still have my days. Some days I still have a lot of pain, but it’s more manageable. I am also fortunate enough to work to be in The Wellness Center every day, which has now added acupuncture to their long list of services. On days when my pain is intense, I go down the hall to the acupuncture center and they fix me right up so I can continue my work with Jovenes.
Mentally, I feel I’ve accomplished a lot, but I also get overwhelmed at times. The work that I do with Jovenes, Inc. is empowering but challenging. A lot of people’s lives depend on how I assess their situation and the help I can provide for them. The work I do here, has also helped me see what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to dedicate myself to the Social Services aspect of Healthcare. It is a part of Healthcare that is very important and while being explored more these days, there is still a lot of work which needs to get done. How can you be healthy with no home?
I have come full circle in my life, thanks to the people of Jovenes, Inc. who always saw the potential in me. I have my health back—for the most part—and I have a steady job I love and I am proud of. I am also grateful to be in a position to help others, who face the challenges I have faced.
My family still lives in that Los Angeles apartment we almost got evicted from, but didn’t. Everyday, I try to do my daily exercise routines to maintain my health to be able to help others as others helped me.