Meet Our Youth

Real stories of resilience and support


Mikaila, age 22

At twenty two years old, StandUp For Kids has truly changed my life. I was introduced to drugs when I was only sixteen, and had it not been for StandUp For Kids, I may still be in the same place I started off. I was introduced to StandUp For Kids by a family friend, one of the mentors in the program. StandUp For Kids assisted me in getting into a rehab facility, and with groceries, hygiene products, job readiness, goal setting, and overall emotional support. The housing support program helped me learn how to manage my life with work and budgeting. The organization helps kids like me get out of trouble. Now, within the next few years I hope to be working full time and have my own place. As for advice for anyone in the position I once was, know there is help, and you can accomplish your dreams.


Cody, age 20

I was four years old when my mom decided she no longer wanted me. I traveled from foster home to foster home, never felt wanted or part of a family, yearned to be loved. When I was nine years old my dream came true, and the foster parents I was living with at the time decided to adopt me. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. During the time I lived with my adopted parents, I was molested by my uncle. My adoptive mother and I clashed. At fourteen, I threatened my mother and told her I was going to run away. I still remember the cold look on her face when she said, “You don’t have to RUN away, you can walk away—no one is going to stop you.” Once again my life seemed empty. That day I walked away. After leaving home I lived with many different friends. Later I was able to settle in with one of my friends and his mom, and it seemed like a good situation at first. However, my experience there was painful and not something I like to talk about. At 17 I was told to find another place to live and was kicked out onto the streets. I remember thinking I was better off dead and no one would notice. While on the streets I did everything and anything to survive. At times, out of desperation, I would sleep with older men. I would often stand in line at a soup kitchen or beg my friends for something to eat. I tried to find work, but it was difficult to find a job without a high school diploma. It is difficult to hide the fact that you are homeless. This was one of the darkest times in my life. It wasn’t until I started going to StandUp For Kids that I had any hope for my life. They made me feel wanted and loved. I would visit them every Wednesday, and there I learned that I had real options in life. They helped me find a shelter and worked with me to find a job. I found out about Job Corps and with their help I was accepted into the program. I will be able to get my diploma, driver’s license, and learn a trade. I am so thankful to StandUp for all of their help. I am looking forward to receiving a high school diploma and education, and I feel like my future is bright.


Darshell, age 18

I was 15 when I got pregnant with twins. Their father, 21, was very abusive to me and he was cheating. When I was 8 months pregnant he pushed me out of the bed and I lost one of the twins and I had to have the other early. She was 4 pounds. My mom and I took care of her. For a year everything was great. Her dad was never in her life, and I never expected him to be after what happened. When I turned 17 Mom started dating Mike. He was talking about having sex with me and I didn’t want any part of that. I told my mom about it, but she was naive because she was in love. I found out about Job Corps and two weeks later I left. I got my GED and my certified nursing assistant degree. My mom left Mike and we stayed in a hotel for seven or eight months, then an apartment. I was robbed. I lost all my money and my clothes, so I went to a battered women’s shelter. I didn’t have any choices. I had my daughter with me. If it was just me, I probably would have committed suicide. That was my mindset. I had never seen homeless people, people in so much need of hygiene, or watch someone beg for food. I used to talk about these people. But then I had to do it to feed my daughter. Begging for food, losing weight, shedding my hair. I was literally losing my mind slowly. Every chance I got to get away from there I did. Now I’m in the healing process, trying to repair everything. I am working and I am staying with my mom until February when I have to find my own place. I have applied to college, and I am aiming to be an RN to work in the neonatal unit. I want a career where my daughter never has to wonder why she doesn’t have anything or wonder why her mommy has to carry pots of water to take a bath. I’ve been through a lot and it’s hard. But I have no choice and I can’t give up. If I give up, she gives up. StandUp For kids has allowed me to get my self-esteem back. It takes my mind off everything else. It allows me to enjoy life again. It shows me that some that people actually want to help. I love StandUp For Kids. When I am out of this program for six months, maybe I can volunteer.


Marcus, age 22

I grew up in my mother’s house but fought with her constantly. At the age of 14, I decided my best option was to move out. Still enrolled in school and working at McDonald’s part-time, I moved in with a friend for about a year. Things didn’t work out with him and I moved out. Still working, a friend hooked me up with a hotel room, where I lived for two and half years paying $400 a month. School became too much, and I wasn’t making enough money to support myself, so I quit school to work full-time. I heard about StandUp For Kids through a friend when I was 19 years old. I called the toll free number on a card, and volunteers met me in a local park. At the time, StandUp For Kids had not established an Outreach Center, so I would occasionally meet with volunteers to get food and hygiene kits, and also take advantage of referrals to nearby shelters. I was their first kid at the Center when it opened it and stayed a regular, coming every week. They have helped me with ID, making sure I have clothes to job interviews and have referred me to housing. I saw the nurse for some of my health concerns. I now have my own place and a steady job. I still talk to my mom, and sometimes she lets me stay overnight, but we just don’t get along well enough for me to stay too long.


Shylesia, age 20

I was molested at 13 by a friend of the family. My mom took me out of school because we kept moving from motels, to shelters, to apartments. I was so tired of moving. It was hard to make friends and study because of all of the moving. At 17, I got pregnant. I moved to a transitional house with my little girl when I was 18. I only stayed in the house for a month because there was a leak in the ceiling. The program that placed me there never found another place for me to stay. So now I was homeless again, with a child. I stayed on the streets for about a month. I moved back to a shelter where I thought my mom was, but I couldn’t find her. I didn’t know where my mom was for several months. I later found out that she moved to Chicago. Me and my little girl went to live with my mom, but we only stayed for a month before moving back together. I was back and forth between different shelters for several months with my daughter. My mom was staying in a motel. When I was in between shelters, I lived on the streets. It was so cold. I was trying to survive for my little girl. I was determined to stay strong for her and keep her out of foster care. I went back to a shelter where they started a program for women and children. This is where I am currently staying. I met StandUp For Kids during their street outreach. I talked to the counselors because I thought they could help me and they did. They helped me to contact an organization that can help with my social security. They helped me get my birth certificate and are helping me find housing. They are so sweet and provide me with clothing and food. Best of all, they help me make better decisions. I am trying to improve my life. My daughter is in daycare. I’m looking for a job. I have my GED. I want to go to school to become a physical therapist. I want safe and affordable housing for me and my daughter. I want my daughter to have a better life than me. I don’t want her to go through the same things I’ve been through.


Isaac, age 20

I left home at the age of 17, looking for a better life than living with my mom and stepfather, who verbally and physically abused me. Life on my own was not as easy as I thought it would be, but I felt I had no other choice. Eventually, I went to one of the few youth shelters in the city. The youth shelter was faith-based, and for a young gay guy this was not a good fit. I was soon back on the street, with more attempts at finding work and an apartment – both with intermittent brief successes and failures, but eventually leading me back to another try at the youth shelter. Again, it did not work. After some more time on the street, I decided to use the money I was saving for an apartment on a hotel room for a few nights to figure out my next step. It was during that difficult period that a street friend suggested I go with him to StandUp For Kids’ Outreach Center. I did. At StandUp For Kids, I met volunteer counselors who gave me a warm meal, clothes, an opportunity to see a nurse, do washes, and take a shower. They also listened to my situation, gave me some information on options, and a referral to a program they knew provided housing for gay youth. With the referral, and bus fare in hand, I went to the program the following day. I had to pay for a few more nights in the hotel, as I worked on getting into the program. I have been in this program for about six months I now have a place to live, with roommates, in a 3-bedroom townhome in a nice community. I am able to stay here as long as I continue to take steps forward and follow the program’s rules. I am presently in my third semester at a technical college studying business management and fashion merchandising. My grades are all A’s and B’s. I am also involved in an internship applicable to my major. I am on my way to building the life I want. I still look forward to coming to StandUp For kids for the guidance, encouragement, and the relationships I have built with counselors who care about me. They remind me that I am a good young man with lots of potential. They encourage me to do well in school, listen to me, and help me resolve various issues that come up in my life.


Shawn, age 19

I came out to California by myself in November last year to find a program that would help me recover from my substance abuse. I found one but after I relapsed, I was back on the streets. It was at this time that I received a call that would change my life…I joined the StandUp For Kids’ housing and rehabilitation program. StandUp For Kids shipped me housing items then supplied me with groceries and hygiene products. Volunteers were able to retrieve my birth certificate so was able to get an ID and start working again. Thanks to StandUp For Kids, I am now a telemarketer, and in sober living. My biggest piece of advice to others is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you need help, and you ask them, they will go out of their way to help you. You have to go fifty/fifty with them and put in the work, and they’ll help you out.”

Meet more youth through spotlight features on our blog.