Courage Resilience & CompassionOthers, Stories
Contributed by: Youth Unlimited (Greater Vancouver)
On many given days this summer, 18-year-old Helena May could be found handing out water to those in the homeless community in Mission. When she learned of the community’s desperate need for clean water, having spent some tough nights on the street herself, she felt compelled to help. Completely of her own initiative, Helena recruited her sister, bought the water and they handed it out—all with a smile, of course. “I love these people,” she says. “I love all of our community.”
Helena had been struggling with challenging living situations for several years before Youth Unlimited’s Mission Youth House (MY House) intervened. Her dramatic life-path change started with a pair of K-Swiss shoes.
She was attending an alternative school in Mission and her shoes were in shambles. The school counsellor noticed and recommended that Helena ask YU youth worker Scott Guitard for a new pair of shoes. The Vans Shoes store in Guilford generously keeps YU supplied with footwear that helps teens in need be fitted with shoes that will help their feet stand out for good reasons—not embarrassing ones. Helena was thrilled with the shoes and began visiting MY House.
THE EARLY YEARS
When she was growing up, Helena and her sister ended up in the custody of her grandma. Those years were extremely hard on Helena. She was delighted when, at age seven, her dad got out of jail and she and her sister were reunited with their parents, creating many happy memories.
“We did a lot of activities together,” she says. “I got to do regular kid stuff like play softball, go fishing, and take dance classes.” While life seemed to stabilize for a few years, the storms were still to come.
At age 12, things started to shift and Helena ended up hanging out at a party house with older teens who were also coping with their own struggles.
“They’d be drunk, by 8:00am,” says Helena. “The girls influence me to drink more. I knew it was wrong, but I looked up to those girls.”
Most days before school she’d be at the “party house” consuming whatever was there. The girls coxed Helena to dress more adult and be involved in adult activities. She felt uneasy about it all, but was slipping in deeper without a way to stop the downward slide.
By 16, she was dealing drugs, convinced she had no other options for work. Lost in a fog of mental health concerns and addiction, and enduring fights with her mom that became violent, she left home.
“I felt like I had nowhere to go and like my family didn’t want me,” she says, “so I was hanging out on the streets. I wasn’t proud of my addiction, so I felt like the streets were where I belonged.” Helena fought to get out the cycle and went to detox, but at the time was not able to maintain sobriety with all the unhealthy influences around her.
LIGHT BREAKS THROUGH
After missing most of her grade nine school year, Helena was placed at Fraserview Learning Centre School and “that was the best thing have could have happened,” she says.
It was there that Helena met Scott who provided her not just with shoes, but also with encouragement and a much-needed introduction to MY House, a critical resource for homeless and street-involved youth.
“She’s always been outgoing and friendly,” says Scott, who helps run My House, “but there was a lot of unhealthiness in her life. I was thrilled to see her making healthier choices and becoming part of our community.”
Helena began to frequent the facility. Whether to get food, a shower, medical advice or to see friends, MY House was where Helena felt safe. YU youth workers became a constant in her life, and they, along with other caring workers helped provide a continuum of care giving Helena the strength she needed to make changes.
A VERY BRIGHT FUTURE
Today, Helena is clean, sober and living with her grandmother. This resilient, confident young woman’s future is so bright. Recently she was working with FLOH, a youth-led, adult-supported job helping those affected by the foster care system, running the dialogue sessions out of MY House’s basement. Over the summer, she was the MY House summer intern, organizing events and being a beacon of hope to those struggling where she once was.
“I continue to impress myself every day with how I’ve overcome,” she says smiling. “I don’t know where I’d be without this place. It was here when I needed something to eat and needed a safe person to talk to. I’m very grateful for MY House.”