Can you imagine being fully independent by age 18?
Shana didn’t choose her childhood. She was born into a family of illegal substance abusers. Even her aunts, uncles, and grandparents were well-known in her small town for drug crimes. There were no extended family members to save Shana. With younger siblings, she assumed the role of their caretaker. Often living in abandoned houses in rural parts of Virginia she was judged by her peers (in her words) as ‘trash’. As if poverty and living around the illegal drug scene weren’t enough, her father committed suicide in an extremely violent way. By the time she reached middle school, she was stealing milk from the cafeteria to feed her baby brother. Shana and her siblings were eventually placed in different foster homes and she settled into a defensive attitude trying to prove that she wasn’t the ‘trash’ that everyone assumed she was. Her academic journey was also rough and her unaddressed trauma lead her to act out in ways that got her in trouble. Foster care couldn’t meet her needs and she dropped out of school. She entered a mental health treatment facility where she was guided to therapy and learned to express herself through art. She began to heal from the abuse and neglect she suffered as a child and began to plan for her future. Shana’s natural artistic talents quickly turned into a career aspiration and dream of becoming an artist. But Shana had no supports in her life and was incapable of being independent at 18. Her choices after discharge were to either become homeless or enter an independent living arrangement (ILA). Shana was motivated to seek a better life than what she’d experienced and enrolled in VHBG’s ILA. She got an apartment on VHBG’s campus where she felt safe and supported. She started working on her diploma and got a job with a goal to be a graphic designer. Shana continues to deal with her emotional scars and fights the feelings of shame and disappointment she has for her family. But her VHBG counselors helped her focus on good choices so she could choose to learn the skills she needs to be independent. She said she’s excited and planning to have a successful adult life.
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This story is real but names and images have been changed to protect the youth’s identity.