The Power of a Helping Hand: Michelle’s Path to Reclaiming Her Life

July 17 2020

StandUp for Kids - Orange County

Michelle looked directly into the camera, smiled, and reflected, “she uplifted my spirit that day”. Denise, who was on the receiving side of this compliment delivered via Zoom call, smiled from ear to ear.  It immediately became clear that the mentorship that StandUp for Kids volunteer Denise provided to twenty-four-year-old homeless youth Michelle was something that altered the course of Michelle’s life for the better. 

Before Michelle met Denise, she had been living out of her father’s car for over three months. For as long as Michelle can remember, things have been hard for her and her family. Michelle recalls that in her earliest memories of Oakland from before she was six years old, “people around me were doing drugs and alcohol to a point where it wasn't a good environment.” Her mother struggled with addiction and when Michelle turned six, her father divorced her mother and moved Michelle and her siblings to Orange County. The family has been homeless or in temporary housing ever since. At times the family would stay in motels where there could be up to seven people staying in the room at a time. Even if the room was overflowing with people, Michelle says it was still preferable to the harsh reality on the other side of the thin hotel walls. People were often passed out in the hallway and addicts openly used drugs and alcohol in the common areas. Michelle recalls, “you never know what could happen when you leave the room...you have to be mindful of that” Her father tried his best to keep the children in the motel rooms after dark, but there was only so much that he could stop them from seeing.

While programs such as Illumination Foundation and the motels like the Red Roof Inn provided temporary housing and a brief respite from the oppressive, seemingly inescapable nature of homelessness, it seemed that Michelle was never able to find the stability and support that she needed. From sleeping in her father’s Ford Thunderbird with five to six other people, to crashing illegally at a music studio she worked at, to coping with her brother's drug use and her own struggles with alcohol --she could not catch a break. When Michelle's father, who was hospitalized with a diabetes diagnosis, required a surgical procedure, Michelle took it upon herself to drive hours every day from her work to bring her father food that met his dietary restrictions. This resulted in her losing her employment and her only source of income. Michelle suffered the consequences of this high stress environment and has dealt with depression and anxiety attacks, which have resulted in hospitalization on multiple occasions. While Michelle has nothing but praise for her father’s resourcefulness and her older sister Chanel’s mother-like role in her life, all of her family members were also battling their own struggle with homelessness, health and life in general. There was no one whose primary focus was on improving the condition of Michelle’s life - until she met Denise.

 

Michelle’s father came across StandUp for Kids when searching for resources. He dialed the phone and handed it over to the initially hesitant Michelle, who was almost immediately introduced to her mentor Denise over the phone. Later that same day, Michelle and Denise met up in a Santa Ana coffee shop. Over breakfast they got to know each other and talked through what Michelle needed. She left the coffee shop with a sleeping bag and toothbrush; and the very next day, Denise connected Michelle to housing in Anaheim where she immediately moved in. And that was merely the beginning of their relationship. According to Michelle, “Denise is always there, she's always personal with me. She made sure I had food and clothes. She dropped off a laptop so I can do online classes. I also have a therapist that is there for me if I did need someone to talk to.” Additionally, Denise provided her with more resources for housing, mental health services and many other organizations that would provide support to Michelle. Denise and StandUp for Kids provided Michelle with, “You know, everything.”

Even though Denise and StandUp for Kids equipped Michelle with all of these resources, Michelle, a self-described introvert, shared that her favorite part about Denise’s mentorship was that she not only listened to what Michelle had to say, but also helped Michelle to say the things she didn't even know she needed to say. Denise’s friendship made Michelle remember the things she cares about -- like her passion for music, playing every instrument she can get her hands on; her interest in pursuing psychiatry; and possibly even a profession of music therapy. Michelle was able to shift her focus from “where am I sleeping tonight?” back to “what am I passionate about?”

Michelle candidly shares that growing up has “been a bumpy road” but is appreciative of the methods she has been provided to cope with the effect they have had on her life. “StandUp for Kids has been a lifesaver; without it I have no idea where I would be.”

StandUp for Kids - Orange County has provided essential mentorship and services to youth since 1990. Your donations allow these meaningful, life changing relationships to continue to impact our youth every day. If you, or someone you know is experiencing homelessness contact 714-356-5437 or orangecounty@standupforkids.org for information on services available to our youth.

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