Join our email list for breaking news and inspiring stories. Subscribe.
If you were to speak to Yelena today, you’d be nothing but impressed. Poised, thoughtful, and confident, Yelena has big plans for her future and has a clear understanding of the steps that she needs to take to achieve her goals. An expectant mother, she speaks passionately about the life she wants for herself and her daughter with a determined wisdom that belies her youth. She plans on running her own business and making sure that her child has all of the opportunities that she never had as a young girl.
But just a few months ago, she was in a very different place.
As the winter took hold of the city, Yelena was struggling. In her early 20s and having recently moved from the Bronx to Jamaica, Queens because she couldn’t find a safe, affordable apartment, she found herself working a minimum wage job at fast food restaurant when she discovered she was pregnant. For a low-income parent like Yelena, this could have devastating effects. She might have to make the difficult choice of working or going to school, or providing full-time care for her child.
Yelena’s childhood was not easy, and it wasn’t by her own doing. She suffered from abuse, neglect, and periodic homelessness. The instability and trauma of her past contributed to time in and out of the foster care and the criminal justice systems. She lacked a strong support network of people who could help guide her during difficult times. Yelena had no one to trust or nowhere to turn, and she hadn’t even graduated from high school yet.
News of her pregnancy threw her into an emotional spiral. “I was terrified,” she said. “It wasn’t just about me anymore. This baby is going to depend on me for everything, but I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know anything about being a parent.”
Desperate for help, one of her friends suggested that she visit our youth center in Queens, dubbed “The Space,” where Sheltering Arms provides supportive services to teens and young adults in a safe and welcoming environment.
Once connected to Sheltering Arms, our staff welcomed her with open arms. Initially hesitant to ask for help, she slowly developed strong relationships with our case managers who over time referred her to a number of our services to give her the support she needed. She enrolled in our Maternal Child Health program to help her get high-quality prenatal care during her pregnancy; she received mental health counseling and treatment to help her deal with her past trauma and her personality disorder; she received help with her application for safe, stable housing; and proudly, she received job readiness training and application support to help her secure a new full-time job with comprehensive benefits working as an administrator at a local college.
“I found a home with Sheltering Arms,” she remembers. “They helped me so much in so many different ways. Whatever type of support I needed – from helping me get a better job to making sure my child is healthy, they’re able to do so much good for people who really need it.”
Yelena’s story is powerful, but when it comes to overcoming the odds, she isn’t the exception. She is one of the nearly 3,500 teens that we serve annually in our Community Youth Center Program and one of 25,000 marginalized New Yorkers we can uplift every year. Some youth come to our programs after years of abuse. Some have been kicked out of their homes and bounce from street to street, shelter to shelter. Our centers and homes are havens where young people can finally discover their potential, as opposed to sliding on an unlevel playing field with nowhere else to turn for support or opportunity.
In order for us to ensure youth like Yelena have a fair shot to achieve their goals, we need support from people like you. Contributions ensure that young people find the support network they deserve, get help with school work, gain referrals for food or housing and other basic needs, and develop skills and build pathways for career success.
By making a tax-deductible gift to Sheltering Arms today, you will do your part to make sure that we have the resources we need to enable thousands of low-income children and families to take steps toward brighter futures.