Why We Exist
I grew up in a rowdy and loud family of 5. My whole childhood was filled with constant conflict and so I signed up for everything extra I could at school and church so I always had a good excuse to be out of the house.
When I was 12, my grandmother was killed, and that changed me forever.
Nobody really paid attention to how upset I was. I started skipping school, drinking, smoking, cutting myself, taking pills and staying out until all hours – sometimes I didn’t come home for days at a time. Once in a while, my dad would call me at 4:00 am to see if I was coming home.
One day when I was in grade 9, my parents told me that their rent went up and they couldn’t afford to stay in our house. Suddenly, my whole family was homeless.
My older sister went to stay with her boyfriend; my parents and brothers moved in with my grandparents, but for some reason this wasn’t an option for me. I’m still not sure why, but they suggested I move in with friends or something…but I didn’t really have friends like that, someone that would let me LIVE with them.
I had a guitar and a few changes of clothes. I was homeless and terrified.
With a few detours along the way, I ended up in Wood’s Homes Youth Culinary Arts (YCAP), part of the Street Services programs. I took classes for 6 weeks with Amanda, a Red Seal chef and Kayla, a Youth and Family counsellor that helped with everything else, including my mental health, which was pretty miserable!
I met Carly one day while I was washing dishes, and we were instantly best friends. She told me a bit about how she ended up at Wood’s Homes too.
She had been through some really rough times – her older sister had been really sick when they were little, her parents had struggled with addictions, and their family had often been on the edge of homelessness.
When she was 10 years old, her parents separated, and not long after that, things got worse. Carly and her sister ended up in foster care for two years.
Eventually, her mom got custody of Carly and her sister, and they moved to Calgary. If all that wasn’t enough, when Carly was just out of high school she started getting sick. She couldn’t eat anything without throwing up; she couldn’t sleep, and felt so badly most days that she couldn’t get out of bed. She lost 80 pounds in less than a year.
Just after her 19th birthday, her mom kicked her out, saying it was time for her to support herself. Carly was still unable to eat or sleep, making it pretty impossible to find or keep a job.
She was suddenly on her own and homeless too, and that’s how she ended up in the kitchen with me that day.
We found out that we both had been to several of the Wood’s Homes programs. We went to EXIT Community Outreach and the EXIT Youth Shelter because we needed a safe place to sleep, but we also found counselling and caring staff. Amanda helped Carly figure out what was making her sick and she helped get her an apartment with New Horizon, which is a supportive housing program. John is the program worker for the LEAD program (Linking Employment, Abilities and Development) and he helped both of us find jobs!
Now, we’re renting a basement suite together with Carly’s sister, and we are both working full time as cooks. Amanda even asked both of us to be mentors for others in the Culinary program.
I never expected to live past 13. There were too many things stacked against me, and I was making some pretty bad choices, too. I’d never imagined I could have made it to where I am today at 19 years old. Having the people I met at Wood’s Homes believe in me is what made me want to be better.
There are lots of reasons kids like us might ask for help. You can help us get the support we need as we work towards independence and learn to become “confident and resilient adults”, as Amanda and Kayla would say!
I am so thankful for your generosity. Please help make it possible for more kids and families to learn firsthand that Wood’s Homes lives their promise to never give up!