HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS
 

In order to spark constructive conversations tied to the larger issues that the events of August 9th, 2014 brought to the forefront, we documented the personal perspectives of commissioners and everyday folks in St. Louis for the Ferguson Commission report. In these stories, featuring those who shared their experiences, expertise, insights, and vision, we purposefully shined a lens on the report’s calls to action and the four signature priorities: racial equity, opportunity to thrive, youth at the center, and justice for all.

We continue to provide storytelling with Forward Through Ferguson, and most recently set out to envision what a transformed St. Louis region would look like, where, regardless of race and ZIP code, there is justice for all, the opportunity to thrive, and boundless possibility for all of our youth. If 2039 is 25 years, a generation, after the killing of Michael Brown and the events of Ferguson, what would a racially equitable St. Louis look, feel, and sound like? Add your #STL2039 vision here.

 
 “The assumption is always that I’m Mexican or Indian. I get a lot of ‘Holas.’ I really can’t be mad. A lot of Mexicans think I’m Mexican. The first interaction is usually, ‘Are you from Mexico?’ ‘No, I’m from Yemen.’ ‘Where’s that?’ ‘It’s in the Middle East.’ People are curious. A lot of times, the next question is, ‘Are you Christian or Jewish?’ Which, I’m neither. I was raised Muslim. But I’m a humanist more than anything, really. They want to ask me questions, but they’re always nervous or worried about offending me. I see myself as an ambassador for Arabs, and I’m not just talking about Muslims. Regardless of religious practices, there are many Arabs like me that are open. We want to change your view, and we want to have the conversation with you rather than you just watching one perspective on the news. So when people ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ I’m not offended. I’m happy to share. Maybe certain questions can be offensive, but if we don’t ask the offensive questions, how do you change the stereotypes you have? I mean, it’s uncomfortable for me to ask a stereotypical question. It’s uncomfortable for you to answer it. But if you don’t answer it, then where do we go from here?”  - Buthaina Noman, Sales Professional 

“The assumption is always that I’m Mexican or Indian. I get a lot of ‘Holas.’ I really can’t be mad. A lot of Mexicans think I’m Mexican. The first interaction is usually, ‘Are you from Mexico?’ ‘No, I’m from Yemen.’ ‘Where’s that?’ ‘It’s in the Middle East.’ People are curious. A lot of times, the next question is, ‘Are you Christian or Jewish?’ Which, I’m neither. I was raised Muslim. But I’m a humanist more than anything, really. They want to ask me questions, but they’re always nervous or worried about offending me. I see myself as an ambassador for Arabs, and I’m not just talking about Muslims. Regardless of religious practices, there are many Arabs like me that are open. We want to change your view, and we want to have the conversation with you rather than you just watching one perspective on the news. So when people ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ I’m not offended. I’m happy to share. Maybe certain questions can be offensive, but if we don’t ask the offensive questions, how do you change the stereotypes you have? I mean, it’s uncomfortable for me to ask a stereotypical question. It’s uncomfortable for you to answer it. But if you don’t answer it, then where do we go from here?”

- Buthaina Noman, Sales Professional 

 “There are certain folks who have accepted that St. Louis is a town whose glory days are behind it – that it’s a smaller, less successful region that it once was. That the forces that set us back are not forces that we have any control over. That it’s just how the city is. It’s not going to change. The people are the people who’ve always been in power. Whether people talk about old money or political dynasties, there’s this sense of stasis or, ‘Yeah, we were once great. But we’re not now.’ I don’t really know what it’s going to take to move us forward. Sometimes it’s outsiders who come in and say, ‘No, this is a great city. There’s so much history here and the people are great.’ And even though some of the smallness of communities and how interconnected everything is can seem a little obnoxious, it’s also a huge value. Investments can be made to move us forward. There is a future that looks different than its most recent past. Understanding how Racial Equity fits into that, there are all sorts of tangible economic and social benefits for being a more equitable, inclusive St. Louis.”  -Paul Sorenson, Founder and CEO at  GoodMap , and Former Director of Strategic Communications and Planning at Grace Hill Settlement House

“There are certain folks who have accepted that St. Louis is a town whose glory days are behind it – that it’s a smaller, less successful region that it once was. That the forces that set us back are not forces that we have any control over. That it’s just how the city is. It’s not going to change. The people are the people who’ve always been in power. Whether people talk about old money or political dynasties, there’s this sense of stasis or, ‘Yeah, we were once great. But we’re not now.’ I don’t really know what it’s going to take to move us forward. Sometimes it’s outsiders who come in and say, ‘No, this is a great city. There’s so much history here and the people are great.’ And even though some of the smallness of communities and how interconnected everything is can seem a little obnoxious, it’s also a huge value. Investments can be made to move us forward. There is a future that looks different than its most recent past. Understanding how Racial Equity fits into that, there are all sorts of tangible economic and social benefits for being a more equitable, inclusive St. Louis.”

-Paul Sorenson, Founder and CEO at GoodMap, and Former Director of Strategic Communications and Planning at Grace Hill Settlement House

 “Starting from my earliest memories of school, I was told by teachers, ‘You’re so great. You’re so smart. You’re gonna do great things. We have high expectations from you, we’re certain you will meet those expectations, and we’re going to provide you with the resources, the nurturing, and the love that you need to meet those expectations.’ So to think that that’s not the experience that Black students encounter from their education was infuriating and heartbreaking. I’m staying in St. Louis, I’m in school, and the topic that it looks like I’m going to be studying for my dissertation, and for the foreseeable future beyond that, came out of my work for the Ferguson Commission in the area of educational equity has has to do with the discipline gap – the racial disparity in the rate at which students are removed from the classroom. That gap, in Missouri, is larger than it is in any other state, at least at the elementary school level. For every White student that’s suspended out of school per 100 White students, about 15 more Black students are suspended out of school. As a public health practitioner, you know that kids that are suspended are put on a track to end up being more likely to end up in a juvenile justice system and incarcerated. But, I wondered if there weren’t other behavioral health and even physical health outcomes that resulted from being told, ‘You’re a troublemaker, and the best thing we can do with you is to kick you out and keep you out of the way of other students.’”  - Karishma Furtado, Catalyst for  Forward Through Ferguson

“Starting from my earliest memories of school, I was told by teachers, ‘You’re so great. You’re so smart. You’re gonna do great things. We have high expectations from you, we’re certain you will meet those expectations, and we’re going to provide you with the resources, the nurturing, and the love that you need to meet those expectations.’ So to think that that’s not the experience that Black students encounter from their education was infuriating and heartbreaking. I’m staying in St. Louis, I’m in school, and the topic that it looks like I’m going to be studying for my dissertation, and for the foreseeable future beyond that, came out of my work for the Ferguson Commission in the area of educational equity has has to do with the discipline gap – the racial disparity in the rate at which students are removed from the classroom. That gap, in Missouri, is larger than it is in any other state, at least at the elementary school level. For every White student that’s suspended out of school per 100 White students, about 15 more Black students are suspended out of school. As a public health practitioner, you know that kids that are suspended are put on a track to end up being more likely to end up in a juvenile justice system and incarcerated. But, I wondered if there weren’t other behavioral health and even physical health outcomes that resulted from being told, ‘You’re a troublemaker, and the best thing we can do with you is to kick you out and keep you out of the way of other students.’”

- Karishma Furtado, Catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson

 “When we’re making the assumption that no progress has been made, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This is a movement for Black lives, and this issue of the dehumanization of Black lives has existed for over 400 years. So, one year responding to Ferguson – or if you take it back to when the Black Lives Matter organization was created after the shooting of Trayvon Martin – two to three years of organizing is not going to unravel everything that’s been happening over the last 400 to 500 years. So, I think there has to be a space for grace, and a space for patience, and a space for resilience if we’re all going to get through these moments in this movement.”  -De Nichols, Co-Founder of  Civic Creatives  and  Forward Through Ferguson  board member

“When we’re making the assumption that no progress has been made, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This is a movement for Black lives, and this issue of the dehumanization of Black lives has existed for over 400 years. So, one year responding to Ferguson – or if you take it back to when the Black Lives Matter organization was created after the shooting of Trayvon Martin – two to three years of organizing is not going to unravel everything that’s been happening over the last 400 to 500 years. So, I think there has to be a space for grace, and a space for patience, and a space for resilience if we’re all going to get through these moments in this movement.”

-De Nichols, Co-Founder of Civic Creatives and Forward Through Ferguson board member

 “Are you familiar with Jane Elliott? She was a teacher in the 60s who did this fascinating experiment: the brown-eyed, blue-eyed video. You have to watch it. There’s another great video clip that’s about 60 seconds. She is in an auditorium of White people, and she says, ‘If you want your experience to be like the experience of Black people on a day-to-day basis, stand up.’ Nobody stands, of course. Then, she says, ‘Wait, I do not think you understood the instructions.’ She asks again, and no one stands. She basically goes on to say, ‘That tells me a lot. That tells me that you know what is going on, you know you would not want it to happen to you, and you are not willing to do anything about it.’ Then she says, ‘I do not know why you are willing to allow it to happen to other people if you know.’ There is something to the idea that once you have your eyes opened, then you are going to have to do something different. As a White person, you are going to have to play a different role.”  -Claire Schell, AVP, Employee Experience,  U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation

“Are you familiar with Jane Elliott? She was a teacher in the 60s who did this fascinating experiment: the brown-eyed, blue-eyed video. You have to watch it. There’s another great video clip that’s about 60 seconds. She is in an auditorium of White people, and she says, ‘If you want your experience to be like the experience of Black people on a day-to-day basis, stand up.’ Nobody stands, of course. Then, she says, ‘Wait, I do not think you understood the instructions.’ She asks again, and no one stands. She basically goes on to say, ‘That tells me a lot. That tells me that you know what is going on, you know you would not want it to happen to you, and you are not willing to do anything about it.’ Then she says, ‘I do not know why you are willing to allow it to happen to other people if you know.’ There is something to the idea that once you have your eyes opened, then you are going to have to do something different. As a White person, you are going to have to play a different role.”

-Claire Schell, AVP, Employee Experience, U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation

 “We were at Target two Halloweens ago and one of my sons noticed one of these superhero costumes with muscle arms, but the muscles were his color skin. So he said, ‘Well, what if you have brown skin and you want to be that character?’ It wasn’t prompted by anything other than his brain. I’m like, ‘Yes! That’s how you think because that’s not fair.’ The other thing is that the boys use the terms brown skin and tan skin to describe people. They don’t use White and Black, and I don’t correct them because I like their way better. It’s an objective description and not a racial connotation. Yeah, I’ve definitely talked to them about history, and segregation, and whatever I can whenever it comes up. It’s hard being a parent, dealing with your own kinds of anxieties and grief because of national and local events and then helping your children not be too sheltered. I think about that with my 7th graders that I teach, too. They’re all coming to me at different levels of awareness, and different levels of exposure and experience to the ‘real world,’ or to issues of racism, oppression, or prejudice. I can’t expect them all to master the same things at the same time because they are in different places. I try to make them cognitive of respecting that and to keep that in mind now as I facilitate conversations. Some of us aren’t there and aren’t going to be there for a long time. Some of us are already there and we’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s the hard part on all levels with students, with staff, with the district, with the world, with adults that my children interact with, with everything.”  -April Fulstone, Teacher at Wydown Middle School

“We were at Target two Halloweens ago and one of my sons noticed one of these superhero costumes with muscle arms, but the muscles were his color skin. So he said, ‘Well, what if you have brown skin and you want to be that character?’ It wasn’t prompted by anything other than his brain. I’m like, ‘Yes! That’s how you think because that’s not fair.’ The other thing is that the boys use the terms brown skin and tan skin to describe people. They don’t use White and Black, and I don’t correct them because I like their way better. It’s an objective description and not a racial connotation. Yeah, I’ve definitely talked to them about history, and segregation, and whatever I can whenever it comes up. It’s hard being a parent, dealing with your own kinds of anxieties and grief because of national and local events and then helping your children not be too sheltered. I think about that with my 7th graders that I teach, too. They’re all coming to me at different levels of awareness, and different levels of exposure and experience to the ‘real world,’ or to issues of racism, oppression, or prejudice. I can’t expect them all to master the same things at the same time because they are in different places. I try to make them cognitive of respecting that and to keep that in mind now as I facilitate conversations. Some of us aren’t there and aren’t going to be there for a long time. Some of us are already there and we’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s the hard part on all levels with students, with staff, with the district, with the world, with adults that my children interact with, with everything.”

-April Fulstone, Teacher at Wydown Middle School

 “I want to make good use of my time and I want to show people how it’s your daily practice. It’s not something you read, or somewhere you go, or a conference you attend. It’s your daily practice of how you think about yourself and how you think about other people, and how you think about the world. It just takes slowing down and making it important. I’m influenced by what I read and what I listen to. We talk about financial literacy, media literacy, and technology literacy. Why? Because those are big systems that are hard to understand, we have to make important decisions in them, and we don’t know everything that’s involved. Race operates the same way. So why don’t we try to get racially literate? We have to get fluency in the language. We have to learn that behavior. We have to learn the interactions. How do I interact with other White people? How do I interact across race and get out of the Black and White paradigm that is so St. Louis?”  - Mary Ferguson, Racial Justice Consultant,  YWCA of St. Louis , and Rudy Nickens, Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity,  Missouri Department of Transportation in Jefferson City

“I want to make good use of my time and I want to show people how it’s your daily practice. It’s not something you read, or somewhere you go, or a conference you attend. It’s your daily practice of how you think about yourself and how you think about other people, and how you think about the world. It just takes slowing down and making it important. I’m influenced by what I read and what I listen to. We talk about financial literacy, media literacy, and technology literacy. Why? Because those are big systems that are hard to understand, we have to make important decisions in them, and we don’t know everything that’s involved. Race operates the same way. So why don’t we try to get racially literate? We have to get fluency in the language. We have to learn that behavior. We have to learn the interactions. How do I interact with other White people? How do I interact across race and get out of the Black and White paradigm that is so St. Louis?”

- Mary Ferguson, Racial Justice Consultant, YWCA of St. Louis, and Rudy Nickens, Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, Missouri Department of Transportation in Jefferson City

 People ask, ‘What do your eight-year-old and five-year-old know?’ My eight-year-old was at his baseball game, and two of the young men explicitly would not high five him and the other black children after the game. Some people might say, ‘Oh, he’s too young for you to engage him in this,’ but if he’s not too young to be treated in a racially hateful way, he’s not too young to start to understand the systems that we’ve created. We have white people in our family. We have interracial marriages in our family. Rather than let them make sense of it themselves, in their own growing brains, we’ve been conscious about talking to them about racism. They know about our country’s history of slavery and that we’re all the same, but there are these differences in terms of melanin, we’ve created these – we talk about race as a social construct – we’ve created this construct around race, and if we don’t like it, that’s why we work to try to make things different. Sometimes, you wonder though. You feel like you’re putting too much on your kid. But I’ll tell you, when my eight-year-old experienced those boys not high fiving him, I was like, ‘No. We did the right thing.’ Because how hard would it be at that moment to explain to him all of these issues and dynamics? And not that he gets it all, because he still cried. It still made him sad. But I don’t want him to ever internalize that that’s something about him.”  - Kira Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology, and check out her series:  Raising Equity

People ask, ‘What do your eight-year-old and five-year-old know?’ My eight-year-old was at his baseball game, and two of the young men explicitly would not high five him and the other black children after the game. Some people might say, ‘Oh, he’s too young for you to engage him in this,’ but if he’s not too young to be treated in a racially hateful way, he’s not too young to start to understand the systems that we’ve created. We have white people in our family. We have interracial marriages in our family. Rather than let them make sense of it themselves, in their own growing brains, we’ve been conscious about talking to them about racism. They know about our country’s history of slavery and that we’re all the same, but there are these differences in terms of melanin, we’ve created these – we talk about race as a social construct – we’ve created this construct around race, and if we don’t like it, that’s why we work to try to make things different. Sometimes, you wonder though. You feel like you’re putting too much on your kid. But I’ll tell you, when my eight-year-old experienced those boys not high fiving him, I was like, ‘No. We did the right thing.’ Because how hard would it be at that moment to explain to him all of these issues and dynamics? And not that he gets it all, because he still cried. It still made him sad. But I don’t want him to ever internalize that that’s something about him.”

- Kira Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology, and check out her series: Raising Equity

 “We have the Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) definition, and there are a few other definitions, locally and nationally, of what equity means, but it’s hard to define something that you don’t have a frame for. We, in the U.S., don’t really grow up thinking about equity. We feel like we reflexively know a lot about equality, or diversity, or inclusion, but equity can seem so foreign. The key thing is that equity, unlike equality, brings in this idea of justice, of not just giving everybody equal resources or access, but it challenges us to dig deeper and think about what is just, or what is fair. That means taking into account historical implications and current outcomes. It’s so much more profound than equality. I have almost completely removed the word equality from the way I talk. I will almost never use equality in my everyday language, because it’s not my goal anymore. I remember starting to work with FTF, and there was definitely a moment where the former commissioners who were serving on the interim board expressed, ‘It’s great that you all are looking at these different priority areas and people that are implementing in the various spaces, but FTF needs to own this Racial Equity piece, and put that at the core.’ For me, that was difficult to reconcile. I’ve since realized that that’s the North Star of it all.”  -David Dwight, Catalyst for  Forward Through Ferguson

“We have the Forward Through Ferguson (FTF) definition, and there are a few other definitions, locally and nationally, of what equity means, but it’s hard to define something that you don’t have a frame for. We, in the U.S., don’t really grow up thinking about equity. We feel like we reflexively know a lot about equality, or diversity, or inclusion, but equity can seem so foreign. The key thing is that equity, unlike equality, brings in this idea of justice, of not just giving everybody equal resources or access, but it challenges us to dig deeper and think about what is just, or what is fair. That means taking into account historical implications and current outcomes. It’s so much more profound than equality. I have almost completely removed the word equality from the way I talk. I will almost never use equality in my everyday language, because it’s not my goal anymore. I remember starting to work with FTF, and there was definitely a moment where the former commissioners who were serving on the interim board expressed, ‘It’s great that you all are looking at these different priority areas and people that are implementing in the various spaces, but FTF needs to own this Racial Equity piece, and put that at the core.’ For me, that was difficult to reconcile. I’ve since realized that that’s the North Star of it all.”

-David Dwight, Catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson

Missouri foundation for health

We teamed up with Missouri Foundation for Health to take the storytelling on the road. The theme – #TheNetBenefit. We shared people’s stories from across the state that we’ve been documenting over the past few months. This collaboration highlights what Missourians need to lead a healthy life, with the help of real stories from real folks about the importance of food, shelter, health care, and economic supports. And how taking care of our residents who need help most leads to stronger communities and a stronger state.

 “To be successful in life does not mean that you make a lot of money. To be successful in life means that you did the right thing to help people. Sometimes you come in here and there’s tension. People are upset or mad. People have bad days. Our saying is, ‘What are we going to do today to help someone?’ Just one person. And if you can have that philosophy in your store, success is going to follow you. I had a cancer patient come in this morning. This person doesn’t have insurance. This person doesn’t have much money and can’t afford to spend a dime in our drugstore. But he doesn’t have to. God’s given me enough that I can give back. We pick patients up, take them to the doctor, and then take them back home. I hope other people do this. So, am I a safety net? I hope so. I hope Butler Drug Store is a safety net for a lot of people. And I think it is, or we wouldn’t have so many patients that keep flooding in here.”  (Portageville, MO)

“To be successful in life does not mean that you make a lot of money. To be successful in life means that you did the right thing to help people. Sometimes you come in here and there’s tension. People are upset or mad. People have bad days. Our saying is, ‘What are we going to do today to help someone?’ Just one person. And if you can have that philosophy in your store, success is going to follow you. I had a cancer patient come in this morning. This person doesn’t have insurance. This person doesn’t have much money and can’t afford to spend a dime in our drugstore. But he doesn’t have to. God’s given me enough that I can give back. We pick patients up, take them to the doctor, and then take them back home. I hope other people do this. So, am I a safety net? I hope so. I hope Butler Drug Store is a safety net for a lot of people. And I think it is, or we wouldn’t have so many patients that keep flooding in here.”

(Portageville, MO)

 “Mama right here found out she had breast cancer the very last week of December. My dad had just filed for his insurance in December, but it wasn’t approved until January first, so they called her cancer a pre-existing condition. It happened days apart, and they wouldn’t cover it for her. So she had to get Aflac and Blue Cross Blue Shield. But before that could kick in, she still had to get regular chemo treatments. She was going for her chemo treatments every two weeks in Memphis and Jonesboro where her doctors were. The doctors told my dad that he had to come up with $3,000 out of pocket every week before the insurance kicked in, or she couldn’t have the chemo. It gives me chills just talking about it. My dad’s a very prideful man. He doesn’t ask for stuff like that. But when it came to her, the whole family gathered and did what we could to make sure she got her treatments. Everybody came together to help her out. There were only two chemo treatments before insurance took care of the rest, but that was scary. Like, ‘If you don’t pay $3,000, she’s going to die.’ The bills were gigantic. They’re still paying for it, but the insurance did help. When something like that happens, it opens your eyes, and you learn you took things for granted that you shouldn’t have. Thank God, she beat it. She’s good now, but that was a rough time.”  (Greenville, MO)

“Mama right here found out she had breast cancer the very last week of December. My dad had just filed for his insurance in December, but it wasn’t approved until January first, so they called her cancer a pre-existing condition. It happened days apart, and they wouldn’t cover it for her. So she had to get Aflac and Blue Cross Blue Shield. But before that could kick in, she still had to get regular chemo treatments. She was going for her chemo treatments every two weeks in Memphis and Jonesboro where her doctors were. The doctors told my dad that he had to come up with $3,000 out of pocket every week before the insurance kicked in, or she couldn’t have the chemo. It gives me chills just talking about it. My dad’s a very prideful man. He doesn’t ask for stuff like that. But when it came to her, the whole family gathered and did what we could to make sure she got her treatments. Everybody came together to help her out. There were only two chemo treatments before insurance took care of the rest, but that was scary. Like, ‘If you don’t pay $3,000, she’s going to die.’ The bills were gigantic. They’re still paying for it, but the insurance did help. When something like that happens, it opens your eyes, and you learn you took things for granted that you shouldn’t have. Thank God, she beat it. She’s good now, but that was a rough time.”

(Greenville, MO)

 “What do you think makes someone healthy?”  “A balanced diet. Being fit. And, mentally, having lots of compliments at hand ready to use.”  (Hermann, MO)

“What do you think makes someone healthy?”

“A balanced diet. Being fit. And, mentally, having lots of compliments at hand ready to use.”

(Hermann, MO)

 “The only hospital here is shutting down completely. But we need it. There’s so much crime in this town – shootings and stabbings and fights. And there are babies being born. I’m speechless.”  “So where will people go for healthcare?”  “Cape. Poplar Bluff. About an hour or more away. I’ve been here all my life. I’m 51.”  “Why do you stay?”  “Because my mom’s been here all of her life, and she’s not going anywhere. She had nine kids, and this is where all my family is.”  (Kennett, MO)

“The only hospital here is shutting down completely. But we need it. There’s so much crime in this town – shootings and stabbings and fights. And there are babies being born. I’m speechless.”

“So where will people go for healthcare?”

“Cape. Poplar Bluff. About an hour or more away. I’ve been here all my life. I’m 51.”

“Why do you stay?”

“Because my mom’s been here all of her life, and she’s not going anywhere. She had nine kids, and this is where all my family is.”

(Kennett, MO)

 “Something I won’t eat? Sloppy Joes. I don’t like the name. I don’t like how they’re sloppy. And they don’t taste good.”  (St. James, MO)

“Something I won’t eat? Sloppy Joes. I don’t like the name. I don’t like how they’re sloppy. And they don’t taste good.”

(St. James, MO)

 “Pastor Meg and her husband, Brad, saw me and my wife come in there every day. When I first moved here, I had some money, but I couldn’t find a job. I spent all my money on motel rooms, eating out, going back and forth to St. Louis, and I went broke. We heard about an overnight shelter that you could go to during the wintertime from November to March, from six in the evening to seven in the morning. We did that for one year. When they found out that we were sleeping downtown, they walked by where we were to see for themselves. The next day we went to work, Pastor Meg asked my wife, ‘Would y’all like to move in downstairs? It’s got everything that you’ll need. There’s a restroom. Y’all can cook. There are two bedrooms.’ So we agreed. They let us stay at their place for free, but we ended up eventually moving into the Welcome Inn. That’s the cheapest motel out here at $165 a week. They even helped us out with rent there, too, because I didn’t have enough to maintain the place and get to the next payday. Brad said, ‘Don't worry about that. We got you.’ So for a time, they paid the rent at the motel for us. I found a job at the Broadway Hilton and tried to get my child support paid up. After that, we got a three-bedroom place, which is pretty good and where we’re at now. Everything worked out for the best. That’s what it’s all about – helping you turn your life around.”  (Columbia, MO)

“Pastor Meg and her husband, Brad, saw me and my wife come in there every day. When I first moved here, I had some money, but I couldn’t find a job. I spent all my money on motel rooms, eating out, going back and forth to St. Louis, and I went broke. We heard about an overnight shelter that you could go to during the wintertime from November to March, from six in the evening to seven in the morning. We did that for one year. When they found out that we were sleeping downtown, they walked by where we were to see for themselves. The next day we went to work, Pastor Meg asked my wife, ‘Would y’all like to move in downstairs? It’s got everything that you’ll need. There’s a restroom. Y’all can cook. There are two bedrooms.’ So we agreed. They let us stay at their place for free, but we ended up eventually moving into the Welcome Inn. That’s the cheapest motel out here at $165 a week. They even helped us out with rent there, too, because I didn’t have enough to maintain the place and get to the next payday. Brad said, ‘Don't worry about that. We got you.’ So for a time, they paid the rent at the motel for us. I found a job at the Broadway Hilton and tried to get my child support paid up. After that, we got a three-bedroom place, which is pretty good and where we’re at now. Everything worked out for the best. That’s what it’s all about – helping you turn your life around.”

(Columbia, MO)

 “When I was growing up, it was always me and my mom as a single parent. She worked long hours. She worked all the time. It took a village. My grandparents filled in a lot. We have the strongest relationship. She lives three minutes away from me. I would never even think of moving unless I could pick her up and take her with me. When I was 19 years old somebody asked me what my favorite memory was with my mom. I said, ‘We used to have vegetable dinners.’ We had green beans, corn, and a bunch of vegetables. She had this blue dress with little white flowers on it, and I used to twirl around in it. So we dressed up and used to eat vegetables by candlelight. It was my favorite. We dressed up, ate dinner by candlelight, and watched Titanic on repeat because we didn’t have cable. When I was 19, I was telling the story to somebody, my mom was there, and she got tickled. She said, ‘We did that because we couldn’t afford meat.’ It just goes to show, you don’t have to have a lot to have a lot of love.”  (Hayti, MO)

“When I was growing up, it was always me and my mom as a single parent. She worked long hours. She worked all the time. It took a village. My grandparents filled in a lot. We have the strongest relationship. She lives three minutes away from me. I would never even think of moving unless I could pick her up and take her with me. When I was 19 years old somebody asked me what my favorite memory was with my mom. I said, ‘We used to have vegetable dinners.’ We had green beans, corn, and a bunch of vegetables. She had this blue dress with little white flowers on it, and I used to twirl around in it. So we dressed up and used to eat vegetables by candlelight. It was my favorite. We dressed up, ate dinner by candlelight, and watched Titanic on repeat because we didn’t have cable. When I was 19, I was telling the story to somebody, my mom was there, and she got tickled. She said, ‘We did that because we couldn’t afford meat.’ It just goes to show, you don’t have to have a lot to have a lot of love.”

(Hayti, MO)

 “The third of the month is Overdose Day. They’ve gone without. They’ve used all their money up. And they’ve kind of gotten a little bit clean. So when they go to buy drugs, when their SSI and their disability checks come in, it hits them hard. And the calls come in: overdose, overdose, overdose.”  “The quality of the drug varies. They’ll get used to something and then the stronger stuff comes out.”  “And the last time they used, it didn’t do anything. They’ve been without for a week or a week and a half, so they double the dose.”  “Or lace it with something else. One time someone cut heroin with fentanyl, an opiate”  “They make these fentanyl patches, too, and people chew them or smoke them. They poke holes in the patch, lay it on aluminum foil, heat it, and inhale the vapors. That is an extremely strong high they get off of it.”  “I’ve seen people save their urine, let it dry out and crystalize, crush it, and resmoke it.”  “You can’t take care of those who don’t want to take care of themselves. I learned that a long time ago. You can just give them some chips, and a sandwich, and a bottle of water.”  “What’s your biggest need right now with the work that you do?”  “More help.”  (Poplar Bluff, MO)

“The third of the month is Overdose Day. They’ve gone without. They’ve used all their money up. And they’ve kind of gotten a little bit clean. So when they go to buy drugs, when their SSI and their disability checks come in, it hits them hard. And the calls come in: overdose, overdose, overdose.”

“The quality of the drug varies. They’ll get used to something and then the stronger stuff comes out.”

“And the last time they used, it didn’t do anything. They’ve been without for a week or a week and a half, so they double the dose.”

“Or lace it with something else. One time someone cut heroin with fentanyl, an opiate”

“They make these fentanyl patches, too, and people chew them or smoke them. They poke holes in the patch, lay it on aluminum foil, heat it, and inhale the vapors. That is an extremely strong high they get off of it.”

“I’ve seen people save their urine, let it dry out and crystalize, crush it, and resmoke it.”

“You can’t take care of those who don’t want to take care of themselves. I learned that a long time ago. You can just give them some chips, and a sandwich, and a bottle of water.”

“What’s your biggest need right now with the work that you do?”

“More help.”

(Poplar Bluff, MO)

 “At the school district I was at before, during one of my worst years, one student had to have 13 teeth pulled because they were all abscessed. He constantly had a fever. I had him in first grade, and when I moved to second grade, I begged my principal to please let me keep him. I said, ‘He has so much potential.’ He didn’t have any running water at his house, so imagine when that child came to school. He had so many other outside factors affecting him that learning was near impossible until he was healthy. We had an amazing school nurse who found someone in town to do all the dental work for free and basically told the parents, well, his aunt, ‘You have to get him there. This is happening. And if you don’t, there will be consequences.’ His mom ended up going to jail, and his dad ended up dying during in those few years. My husband and I agreed that we would foster him, if he was going to be put in the system, and our school nurse was going to take his sister. Collectively, together, we all worked to help this family. He fell in between the ages of my kids, so we sat down with our two children because we had to let them know he might come live with us for a while. My son gathered up a bunch of his clothes, and we gave it to somebody else to give to him because I didn’t want anybody to see that I was sending them home with him. But, of course, he would show up to school wearing them, and I thought, ‘Good! He’s got some new clothes.’ His grandparents ended up taking him, the last I heard. He was so sweet. I will say, one thing I miss about public education is fighting for that underdog. The ones where, when they came to school, you were the only one who sometimes could help them feel that they truly were loved.”  (Cape Girardeau, MO)

“At the school district I was at before, during one of my worst years, one student had to have 13 teeth pulled because they were all abscessed. He constantly had a fever. I had him in first grade, and when I moved to second grade, I begged my principal to please let me keep him. I said, ‘He has so much potential.’ He didn’t have any running water at his house, so imagine when that child came to school. He had so many other outside factors affecting him that learning was near impossible until he was healthy. We had an amazing school nurse who found someone in town to do all the dental work for free and basically told the parents, well, his aunt, ‘You have to get him there. This is happening. And if you don’t, there will be consequences.’ His mom ended up going to jail, and his dad ended up dying during in those few years. My husband and I agreed that we would foster him, if he was going to be put in the system, and our school nurse was going to take his sister. Collectively, together, we all worked to help this family. He fell in between the ages of my kids, so we sat down with our two children because we had to let them know he might come live with us for a while. My son gathered up a bunch of his clothes, and we gave it to somebody else to give to him because I didn’t want anybody to see that I was sending them home with him. But, of course, he would show up to school wearing them, and I thought, ‘Good! He’s got some new clothes.’ His grandparents ended up taking him, the last I heard. He was so sweet. I will say, one thing I miss about public education is fighting for that underdog. The ones where, when they came to school, you were the only one who sometimes could help them feel that they truly were loved.”

(Cape Girardeau, MO)

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Migrant & immigrant community action project

A large focus of the work at the MICA Project is promoting the voice and human dignity of immigrant communities. The MICA Project wishes to change the narrative of immigration in this country, which too often dehumanizes newcomers based solely on their country of origin.

The hope of the Portraying Humanity photo series is to create a space for clients to share their experiences with the larger community; to write the narrative for themselves. Their stories shed light on the countless experiences of how people are directly impacted by our nation’s immigration system and give a glimpse into a point of view that is too often muted. The MICA Project and the people that they work with aim to promote these voices and encourage a dialog rooted in dignity, celebration, and respect.

 “She tells me that she sees the news and the reports. We saw a movie about how immigrants from Mexico come here. How an immigrant gets here is very sad. She asked me, ‘Mama, how did you come?’ And I talked about it with her. ‘And you all suffered over there, mama? You didn’t have water? You didn’t have food?’ She started to put all of this together. And I’d say, ‘Yes, that was almost everything that we went through.’ ‘But, mama, why do people come from there to here? Don’t they have anything to eat in your country?’ She thinks about a lot of things. She is an intelligent girl that is starting to connect all that. She was shocked by all the people in the movie, and she said, ‘Mama, then all of the people here have come over here that way?’ I tell her, ‘Not all of them. Some, perhaps, have a visa, a passport, and then they can travel and come here.’ And she asked me, ‘Mama, when are you going to go to Mexico?’ ‘I don’t know, daughter. Maybe one day we’ll go to Mexico. What if I send you for vacation?’ And she said, ‘No, mama. If you don’t go with me, I’m not going.’”

“She tells me that she sees the news and the reports. We saw a movie about how immigrants from Mexico come here. How an immigrant gets here is very sad. She asked me, ‘Mama, how did you come?’ And I talked about it with her. ‘And you all suffered over there, mama? You didn’t have water? You didn’t have food?’ She started to put all of this together. And I’d say, ‘Yes, that was almost everything that we went through.’ ‘But, mama, why do people come from there to here? Don’t they have anything to eat in your country?’ She thinks about a lot of things. She is an intelligent girl that is starting to connect all that. She was shocked by all the people in the movie, and she said, ‘Mama, then all of the people here have come over here that way?’ I tell her, ‘Not all of them. Some, perhaps, have a visa, a passport, and then they can travel and come here.’ And she asked me, ‘Mama, when are you going to go to Mexico?’ ‘I don’t know, daughter. Maybe one day we’ll go to Mexico. What if I send you for vacation?’ And she said, ‘No, mama. If you don’t go with me, I’m not going.’”

Prisms, Inc.

 

Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS) is a chromosomal disorder characterized by a recognizable pattern of physical, behavioral, and developmental features. It is caused by a missing piece of genetic material from chromosome 17 and often mistaken for Asperger’s or autism. SMS is a rare disorder that occurs in about 1/15,000 to 1/25,000 births. It is under-diagnosed, but as awareness of it increases, more people who are affected by it are identified each year. To learn more about the research, support, and what it’s like living with SMS, visit the Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome (Prisms, Inc.) website: http://www.prisms.org/

 “She’s 21, and she finished high school. She’s involved in bowling and softball with the Special Olympics. And she was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. They had several Dorothy’s, and each would fill in at different times during the play. She loves watching plays and knows all the words to Grease and Hairspray. We took her to the Hairspray dress rehearsal, so she wasn’t disruptive to everyone else. I’m telling you, we watched the whole thing with her singing and dancing to every song. For the encore, they said, ‘We want a special person to come up here.’ She went up on the stage, they did the whole last song over, she danced exactly as the actors did because she’s done it so many times, and then she bowed. Everyone just bawled! We don’t want her to think she can’t do something because of her disability. She just acts like she’s normal, and we just let her do as much as she can safely do.”

“She’s 21, and she finished high school. She’s involved in bowling and softball with the Special Olympics. And she was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. They had several Dorothy’s, and each would fill in at different times during the play. She loves watching plays and knows all the words to Grease and Hairspray. We took her to the Hairspray dress rehearsal, so she wasn’t disruptive to everyone else. I’m telling you, we watched the whole thing with her singing and dancing to every song. For the encore, they said, ‘We want a special person to come up here.’ She went up on the stage, they did the whole last song over, she danced exactly as the actors did because she’s done it so many times, and then she bowed. Everyone just bawled! We don’t want her to think she can’t do something because of her disability. She just acts like she’s normal, and we just let her do as much as she can safely do.”

 “Children with SMS are known to get up at night because they’re night foragers. One day, my kids were eating breakfast with me, and Jacquelyn said, ‘Mom, I drove the car last night.’ We’re all sitting there like, ‘Okay. Yeahhh…’ She was maybe six, and my son was three. She said, ‘No, really I did.’ ‘Really?’ She said, ‘Yeah, and I couldn’t get it back in the yard.’ I said, ‘What? Okay, now you got my attention.’ So, I looked out the window, and oh my gosh, my car was sitting in the guy’s yard across the street, with the door open. She had gone into the basement, opened the garage door, got into the truck, fit the key in, popped it out of gear, and let it roll across the street. My little one, who was old enough to cognitively know that it was wrong, told her, ‘Jackie, you know you’re too little to drive. You need a license for that.’ She said, ‘Oh, I know. I know.’ My Jeep had missed the neighbor’s front door and a tree by about a foot. After that, the key was never on the counter anymore, and I put a deadbolt on the garage door. I had to call my older son out of work to jump the Jeep because, by then, the battery was dead. We had to get it out of that guy’s yard! He didn’t even like if we backed up onto his lawn accidentally and left a tire mark. About 15 minutes later, the man came home. We had raked the grass and everything.”

“Children with SMS are known to get up at night because they’re night foragers. One day, my kids were eating breakfast with me, and Jacquelyn said, ‘Mom, I drove the car last night.’ We’re all sitting there like, ‘Okay. Yeahhh…’ She was maybe six, and my son was three. She said, ‘No, really I did.’ ‘Really?’ She said, ‘Yeah, and I couldn’t get it back in the yard.’ I said, ‘What? Okay, now you got my attention.’ So, I looked out the window, and oh my gosh, my car was sitting in the guy’s yard across the street, with the door open. She had gone into the basement, opened the garage door, got into the truck, fit the key in, popped it out of gear, and let it roll across the street. My little one, who was old enough to cognitively know that it was wrong, told her, ‘Jackie, you know you’re too little to drive. You need a license for that.’ She said, ‘Oh, I know. I know.’ My Jeep had missed the neighbor’s front door and a tree by about a foot. After that, the key was never on the counter anymore, and I put a deadbolt on the garage door. I had to call my older son out of work to jump the Jeep because, by then, the battery was dead. We had to get it out of that guy’s yard! He didn’t even like if we backed up onto his lawn accidentally and left a tire mark. About 15 minutes later, the man came home. We had raked the grass and everything.”

 “I still don’t know what it’s like to have SMS. What’s going on in my son’s mind, how hard it must be for him, what it feels like. The kids can’t articulate it all that well. We hear bits and pieces of it. Some kids have expressed, ‘I see red. I feel hot,’ and I know that’s the anxiety part of it. But, as frustrating as it is for us, it must be that much harder to be living with the syndrome yourself. The frustration sounds like, ‘I can’t do it, but I want to do it.’ My son, for instance, thinks he should be able to hold a pencil, and this is what the letters should look like. But his fine motor skills are off. So, he’ll start off writing well and just end up tearing the paper. I think he thinks, ‘Why can I not do it? Why can I not make my fingers work?’ And in some ways, he’s perfectly content with himself. He has no inhibition. He’ll go up to anyone. Someone in a suit, someone that’s a biker, someone that’s a doctor: everyone’s his equal, everyone wants to say, ‘Hi’ and talk. And he doesn’t hold a grudge. So if someone hurt his feelings or wasn’t that nice, he’ll give him a chance over and over again. In a lot of ways, he’s a lot of what I think I should be.” 

“I still don’t know what it’s like to have SMS. What’s going on in my son’s mind, how hard it must be for him, what it feels like. The kids can’t articulate it all that well. We hear bits and pieces of it. Some kids have expressed, ‘I see red. I feel hot,’ and I know that’s the anxiety part of it. But, as frustrating as it is for us, it must be that much harder to be living with the syndrome yourself. The frustration sounds like, ‘I can’t do it, but I want to do it.’ My son, for instance, thinks he should be able to hold a pencil, and this is what the letters should look like. But his fine motor skills are off. So, he’ll start off writing well and just end up tearing the paper. I think he thinks, ‘Why can I not do it? Why can I not make my fingers work?’ And in some ways, he’s perfectly content with himself. He has no inhibition. He’ll go up to anyone. Someone in a suit, someone that’s a biker, someone that’s a doctor: everyone’s his equal, everyone wants to say, ‘Hi’ and talk. And he doesn’t hold a grudge. So if someone hurt his feelings or wasn’t that nice, he’ll give him a chance over and over again. In a lot of ways, he’s a lot of what I think I should be.” 

 “Talking to a newly diagnosed family is the hardest part, but it’s also the best part. I’m really happy to put their fears to rest. Prisms set up a regional rep program. We want to have one in all 50 states. Now, a parent in your area can tell you how to get in touch with a specialists in your part of the country. We have a conference, a publication about schools, a publication about adult living, and SMS experts to turn to. We are the clearinghouse for all things SMS. We’re so lucky we have all this information now, but you don’t have to take it in all at once. If your child is two-years-old today, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do when he’s an adult. Enjoy your two-year-old. Just because there’s a symptom on the list, doesn’t mean your child’s going to exhibit that symptom. A geneticist told me, ‘They’re not kegs of dynamite that are going to explode one day and have all these symptoms. Things will come and go. Some things will never come. You just take what comes to you, deal with it in that moment, and don’t overwhelm yourself with all the information.’ And I’ve tried to remember that.”

“Talking to a newly diagnosed family is the hardest part, but it’s also the best part. I’m really happy to put their fears to rest. Prisms set up a regional rep program. We want to have one in all 50 states. Now, a parent in your area can tell you how to get in touch with a specialists in your part of the country. We have a conference, a publication about schools, a publication about adult living, and SMS experts to turn to. We are the clearinghouse for all things SMS. We’re so lucky we have all this information now, but you don’t have to take it in all at once. If your child is two-years-old today, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do when he’s an adult. Enjoy your two-year-old. Just because there’s a symptom on the list, doesn’t mean your child’s going to exhibit that symptom. A geneticist told me, ‘They’re not kegs of dynamite that are going to explode one day and have all these symptoms. Things will come and go. Some things will never come. You just take what comes to you, deal with it in that moment, and don’t overwhelm yourself with all the information.’ And I’ve tried to remember that.”

 “Years ago, we were in a restaurant, and he was having behavioral problems. He threw himself towards the doorway, and I couldn’t get out. My hands were full. I had to leave the things, go to the car, come back in, and run back out to the car. But I have these cards that another SMS mom introduced me to. They have his name and the diagnosis on it, explaining that he wasn’t just an upset child. It says that he has Smith-Magenis Syndrome, that it causes some behaviors that we struggle with in public, and it has the PRISMS website on it. Because it’s difficult when you’re in public. When he gets physical and rough, there’s not a safe place for you to step away to. A lot of times we have to leave. It has affected every aspect of our daily lives: what hours I work, where I work, what family things we can go to, what I’m able to do with friends, who his caregivers are and how long they stay with us. So I always pass those cards out when I can, and I did that day at the restaurant. One of my friends called me later and told me that the man that I gave it to went home and gave it to his wife. Then, she posted on Facebook about how her husband thought my son was a misbehaving child, but the man was given the card, and the struggle was a much bigger picture than my son just acting out. With SMS, the meltdowns are just so extreme with the behaviors and the attention they draw and how upsetting it is for the parents. So, to have the card, at least you hope that some of the judgment goes away.”

“Years ago, we were in a restaurant, and he was having behavioral problems. He threw himself towards the doorway, and I couldn’t get out. My hands were full. I had to leave the things, go to the car, come back in, and run back out to the car. But I have these cards that another SMS mom introduced me to. They have his name and the diagnosis on it, explaining that he wasn’t just an upset child. It says that he has Smith-Magenis Syndrome, that it causes some behaviors that we struggle with in public, and it has the PRISMS website on it. Because it’s difficult when you’re in public. When he gets physical and rough, there’s not a safe place for you to step away to. A lot of times we have to leave. It has affected every aspect of our daily lives: what hours I work, where I work, what family things we can go to, what I’m able to do with friends, who his caregivers are and how long they stay with us. So I always pass those cards out when I can, and I did that day at the restaurant. One of my friends called me later and told me that the man that I gave it to went home and gave it to his wife. Then, she posted on Facebook about how her husband thought my son was a misbehaving child, but the man was given the card, and the struggle was a much bigger picture than my son just acting out. With SMS, the meltdowns are just so extreme with the behaviors and the attention they draw and how upsetting it is for the parents. So, to have the card, at least you hope that some of the judgment goes away.”

 “When he was 14-months old he was diagnosed with SMS through genetic testing. We went to his pediatrician for his 1-year checkup. He had been mentally behind, but I didn’t realize how far because he is also hearing impaired. I thought most of it was because of the hearing loss. I got the phone call when I was working. They told me that SMS is characterized by hearing loss, which I knew he had, and developmental delays, and mental retardation. It was life-changing. The day we found out, I will never forget. Most doctors haven’t heard of it before. Now, he sees about 10 specialists. He has two heart murmurs, chronic ear infections, bilateral hearing aids, chronic constipation, braces he wears on both feet, and a growth hormone deficiency. He gets a growth hormone injection every night. He is followed by an endocrinologist, a speech specialist, a behavioral specialist, a GI specialist, and an orthopedic surgeon. And Nico isn’t the fastest mover. It’s pretty common with the syndrome. If you have to be somewhere on time, that’s not a realistic expectation. You have to be flexible and learn to do things his way, especially, if you want to do things happily. Normally, if you have enough time, and you’re not putting any stress on him, everything goes really well. Other times, it can be quite a fight. He can melt down and need to be in time out for a long time. He’ll be going into fourth grade this school year. He’s been in the same school from first to fourth, and he hasn’t been invited to any birthday parties or a play date. It’s heartbreaking. But you have to focus on the positive things.”

“When he was 14-months old he was diagnosed with SMS through genetic testing. We went to his pediatrician for his 1-year checkup. He had been mentally behind, but I didn’t realize how far because he is also hearing impaired. I thought most of it was because of the hearing loss. I got the phone call when I was working. They told me that SMS is characterized by hearing loss, which I knew he had, and developmental delays, and mental retardation. It was life-changing. The day we found out, I will never forget. Most doctors haven’t heard of it before. Now, he sees about 10 specialists. He has two heart murmurs, chronic ear infections, bilateral hearing aids, chronic constipation, braces he wears on both feet, and a growth hormone deficiency. He gets a growth hormone injection every night. He is followed by an endocrinologist, a speech specialist, a behavioral specialist, a GI specialist, and an orthopedic surgeon. And Nico isn’t the fastest mover. It’s pretty common with the syndrome. If you have to be somewhere on time, that’s not a realistic expectation. You have to be flexible and learn to do things his way, especially, if you want to do things happily. Normally, if you have enough time, and you’re not putting any stress on him, everything goes really well. Other times, it can be quite a fight. He can melt down and need to be in time out for a long time. He’ll be going into fourth grade this school year. He’s been in the same school from first to fourth, and he hasn’t been invited to any birthday parties or a play date. It’s heartbreaking. But you have to focus on the positive things.”

 “She loves Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins to her is a real person and a hero. A couple of years ago, we got to take her to see the Broadway show at the Kennedy Center and it was amazing. When we stood up at the end, everyone was applauding, and she was crying. And she didn’t know why she was crying. She said, ‘Why do I have tears?’ I said, ‘That’s joy.’ I said, ‘That’s because you’re so happy.’”

“She loves Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins to her is a real person and a hero. A couple of years ago, we got to take her to see the Broadway show at the Kennedy Center and it was amazing. When we stood up at the end, everyone was applauding, and she was crying. And she didn’t know why she was crying. She said, ‘Why do I have tears?’ I said, ‘That’s joy.’ I said, ‘That’s because you’re so happy.’”

 “What do you like about hanging out with your mom?”  “She’s loved me the best.”

“What do you like about hanging out with your mom?”

“She’s loved me the best.”

 “It’s very isolating. It’s difficult to talk to people about any challenges or successes you have. Last year, when Nico was eight, he wasn’t successful on a bicycle. Even with training wheels, it was just a little too unsteady for him. He refused to ride it. This year, he got a tricycle, and he’s been extremely successful with it. But to call your friends and explain to them your excitement about him being successful as a nine-year-old on a tricycle? I don’t think they know exactly how to celebrate with you. And, obviously, they can’t empathize with the challenges that you have. So, it’s so extremely important that the families with SMS children are there for each other.”

“It’s very isolating. It’s difficult to talk to people about any challenges or successes you have. Last year, when Nico was eight, he wasn’t successful on a bicycle. Even with training wheels, it was just a little too unsteady for him. He refused to ride it. This year, he got a tricycle, and he’s been extremely successful with it. But to call your friends and explain to them your excitement about him being successful as a nine-year-old on a tricycle? I don’t think they know exactly how to celebrate with you. And, obviously, they can’t empathize with the challenges that you have. So, it’s so extremely important that the families with SMS children are there for each other.”

 “She was diagnosed in 1990. She was six-months-old, and she was the 30th case in the world known at that time. It was just so profound to find out something that we couldn’t even imagine planning for. The geneticist who gave us the diagnosis hadn’t heard of it himself and offered us nothing. No information and no hope. He started to talk to us about residential placements, and she was a six-month-old baby sitting on my lap. In my head, I remember thinking, ‘Why’s he talking about that? You just slayed me. I have this baby in front of me.’ I just wanted him to shut up. I couldn’t go home and Google it. We didn’t have Google back then. I remember every detail of the day. I had to go to work after that, and I said to my husband, ‘Just don’t say anything.’ I gave him the baby and knew that if I even tried to talk, I couldn’t get through the rest of my day. I had to go work with kids. Typical, healthy, happy kids with able bodies and minds. All you have is a diagnosis. All you have is a name. What do you do with that? There was one paper written at that time, and it was something out of a science experiment, talking about the features and drastic things. That’s how first papers get written. I was like, ‘How can you hand this to a family? This is what you give them?’ The geneticist wanted us to come back in a few months, and I didn’t. No one’s ever asked me how it felt to get the diagnosis. The diagnosis is like falling off a cliff. You don’t know if you’re going to land, or where it’s going to be, or what it looks like. All I could think is, ‘Why is the world still turning when mine has ended?’”

“She was diagnosed in 1990. She was six-months-old, and she was the 30th case in the world known at that time. It was just so profound to find out something that we couldn’t even imagine planning for. The geneticist who gave us the diagnosis hadn’t heard of it himself and offered us nothing. No information and no hope. He started to talk to us about residential placements, and she was a six-month-old baby sitting on my lap. In my head, I remember thinking, ‘Why’s he talking about that? You just slayed me. I have this baby in front of me.’ I just wanted him to shut up. I couldn’t go home and Google it. We didn’t have Google back then. I remember every detail of the day. I had to go to work after that, and I said to my husband, ‘Just don’t say anything.’ I gave him the baby and knew that if I even tried to talk, I couldn’t get through the rest of my day. I had to go work with kids. Typical, healthy, happy kids with able bodies and minds. All you have is a diagnosis. All you have is a name. What do you do with that? There was one paper written at that time, and it was something out of a science experiment, talking about the features and drastic things. That’s how first papers get written. I was like, ‘How can you hand this to a family? This is what you give them?’ The geneticist wanted us to come back in a few months, and I didn’t. No one’s ever asked me how it felt to get the diagnosis. The diagnosis is like falling off a cliff. You don’t know if you’re going to land, or where it’s going to be, or what it looks like. All I could think is, ‘Why is the world still turning when mine has ended?’”

 “One of the lovely challenges is that you’re always on, but everything that she and these kids give is 1000%. There’s no modulation. It’s never at zero. The challenges are really hard. Her toughest days, we don’t even have the words sometimes. We don’t call for help because we’re too scared. She’s a great danger to herself and to us. And we pray our way through it. I think, ‘Where is God in all this who created this beautiful person who’s falling to pieces?’ You see her falling to pieces, and you have to clean up the rubble all the time. It’s messy. It hurts your heart. But that’s how He made her. We have to love her the same. That’s why she needs us and why she was given to us. It’s all or nothing. You have to be all in. Everyday, you have to wipe the board clean and start anew. If it’s a tough day and you’re fixing broken windows or doors, you learn to just let it go. It’s a door. It can be replaced. One time, my little dog thought he had a new doggie door. She had kicked in the whole bottom of a door, and the dog was like, ‘Well, that’s convenient. Thanks!’ Here I have this crazy insane thing happen, and my dog is like, ‘I really love the remodeling. How convenient.’ That’s what keeps you sane. Because then they’ll do something so crazy. You readjust. You reboot. You press on.”

“One of the lovely challenges is that you’re always on, but everything that she and these kids give is 1000%. There’s no modulation. It’s never at zero. The challenges are really hard. Her toughest days, we don’t even have the words sometimes. We don’t call for help because we’re too scared. She’s a great danger to herself and to us. And we pray our way through it. I think, ‘Where is God in all this who created this beautiful person who’s falling to pieces?’ You see her falling to pieces, and you have to clean up the rubble all the time. It’s messy. It hurts your heart. But that’s how He made her. We have to love her the same. That’s why she needs us and why she was given to us. It’s all or nothing. You have to be all in. Everyday, you have to wipe the board clean and start anew. If it’s a tough day and you’re fixing broken windows or doors, you learn to just let it go. It’s a door. It can be replaced. One time, my little dog thought he had a new doggie door. She had kicked in the whole bottom of a door, and the dog was like, ‘Well, that’s convenient. Thanks!’ Here I have this crazy insane thing happen, and my dog is like, ‘I really love the remodeling. How convenient.’ That’s what keeps you sane. Because then they’ll do something so crazy. You readjust. You reboot. You press on.”

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Magdalene house

Magdalene SaintLouis is a residential community for women who have survived sexual exploitation, violence, or addiction. We were invited to meet some of the women in the program and share their stories with the larger audience.

 “I am a recovering addict. I’m 45 years old. I can’t remember the age ranges, but I have nine living children. Five of them stay with their dad and the rest are in foster care. They don’t even know that they have brothers and sisters. It feels low sometimes knowing my kids are out there, and I can’t see them, or talk to them, or know how they’re doing, or if somebody’s touching them, or hurting them. They’re probably wondering why I had to give up parental rights. It makes me feel bad, but I’m healing myself right now. My lowest low was when I left my daughter at the daycare. I was high and hoping one of my family members would pick her up. Nobody came to pick her up. When I came down, I realized what I had done, and I felt like dying. My mama never left me at the daycare. Nobody ever left me. I felt real bad. I still feel bad. That’s why I had to keep medicating, to numb the feeling. Dealing with life on life’s terms without the use of drugs is new to me because my feelings come up. But the rewarding part is being able to start and finish a movie without any interruptions, or to be able to have a conversation with somebody and not be interrupted because I need to use drugs, to develop relationships with people striving to do the same thing I’m striving to do: to stay clean and recover, and to know, one day, I’ll be able to see my daughter again. The most rewarding part is to be clean for that. I’ve been clean for 16 months. That means everything to me. My highest high now is seeing someone that I know on the streets that’s still using drugs, and I’m clean. I made the right decision. And just for today I have no desire to get high.”

“I am a recovering addict. I’m 45 years old. I can’t remember the age ranges, but I have nine living children. Five of them stay with their dad and the rest are in foster care. They don’t even know that they have brothers and sisters. It feels low sometimes knowing my kids are out there, and I can’t see them, or talk to them, or know how they’re doing, or if somebody’s touching them, or hurting them. They’re probably wondering why I had to give up parental rights. It makes me feel bad, but I’m healing myself right now. My lowest low was when I left my daughter at the daycare. I was high and hoping one of my family members would pick her up. Nobody came to pick her up. When I came down, I realized what I had done, and I felt like dying. My mama never left me at the daycare. Nobody ever left me. I felt real bad. I still feel bad. That’s why I had to keep medicating, to numb the feeling. Dealing with life on life’s terms without the use of drugs is new to me because my feelings come up. But the rewarding part is being able to start and finish a movie without any interruptions, or to be able to have a conversation with somebody and not be interrupted because I need to use drugs, to develop relationships with people striving to do the same thing I’m striving to do: to stay clean and recover, and to know, one day, I’ll be able to see my daughter again. The most rewarding part is to be clean for that. I’ve been clean for 16 months. That means everything to me. My highest high now is seeing someone that I know on the streets that’s still using drugs, and I’m clean. I made the right decision. And just for today I have no desire to get high.”

 “I heard about Magdalene House through these girls who were in treatment three years ago, and I wanted to come, but there were no openings. I kept trying, and trying, and trying, and, in the process, I was using drugs. When I’d come down, I’d call because I didn’t want to be in the situation I was in. Someone there would talk to me and give me hope, encouraging me to keep calling. They finally sent me a letter saying I was accepted, and I was happy about that. At the time, I was in jail, and on suicide watch because I slit my arm. I met one of the ladies from Magdalene at the hospital, and she took me from there. I knew that I could heal myself from what I had done. Hopefully, my family would forgive me too. I thought this two-year program would be a good fit for me. I can take my time.”

“I heard about Magdalene House through these girls who were in treatment three years ago, and I wanted to come, but there were no openings. I kept trying, and trying, and trying, and, in the process, I was using drugs. When I’d come down, I’d call because I didn’t want to be in the situation I was in. Someone there would talk to me and give me hope, encouraging me to keep calling. They finally sent me a letter saying I was accepted, and I was happy about that. At the time, I was in jail, and on suicide watch because I slit my arm. I met one of the ladies from Magdalene at the hospital, and she took me from there. I knew that I could heal myself from what I had done. Hopefully, my family would forgive me too. I thought this two-year program would be a good fit for me. I can take my time.”


 “Do you remember the first time you traded sex for money?”  “I had gotten a ride from this guy. I was trying to get somewhere. I know you’re not supposed to hitchhike. I know. But I did it anyway. And this guy said, ‘If you just touch me here, then I’ll give you some money.’ I didn’t have any money, so I did it. That was the first time I learned that if you have sex and do other things, then guys will give you money. So when I had the drug addiction, I figured, I can trade to get what I need. I learned how to do that. I also learned how to steal stuff from a store to get a gift card to give to dealers. Especially around the holidays, dealers will take Walmart, Home Depot cards, and even food stamps. When I’d feel like I needed to get one more hit, prostitution was the option. I didn’t really feel anything because once I got one more, then I was high, and all my feelings were numb. I could do anything. But then when I’d come down, I’d wonder, ‘What did I do?’ You feel so bad. You feel dirty. And you wonder why you put yourself in harmful situations and did all that stuff to get one more. ‘I slept with this old, nasty dude? I did that? Eww.’”

“Do you remember the first time you traded sex for money?”

“I had gotten a ride from this guy. I was trying to get somewhere. I know you’re not supposed to hitchhike. I know. But I did it anyway. And this guy said, ‘If you just touch me here, then I’ll give you some money.’ I didn’t have any money, so I did it. That was the first time I learned that if you have sex and do other things, then guys will give you money. So when I had the drug addiction, I figured, I can trade to get what I need. I learned how to do that. I also learned how to steal stuff from a store to get a gift card to give to dealers. Especially around the holidays, dealers will take Walmart, Home Depot cards, and even food stamps. When I’d feel like I needed to get one more hit, prostitution was the option. I didn’t really feel anything because once I got one more, then I was high, and all my feelings were numb. I could do anything. But then when I’d come down, I’d wonder, ‘What did I do?’ You feel so bad. You feel dirty. And you wonder why you put yourself in harmful situations and did all that stuff to get one more. ‘I slept with this old, nasty dude? I did that? Eww.’”

 “He was very controlling. He didn’t want me to go anywhere. If I went somewhere, I had to be back at a certain time. If I got a job, it had to be in the area where we stayed so he could keep an eye on me. He didn’t want me to do anything. He wanted to give me the money, but if he gave me the money, then I had to do something for him. He was angry all the time. We were both using. I knew I had to leave because I felt like if I stayed there, I was losing all of me. I didn’t even know me anymore. I was doing all this stuff for him and getting slapped around because I wasn’t acting the ‘right way’ or whatever. It felt like if I stayed, I was going to die eventually. I didn’t want my mom to see me on the news. Seeing my mother physically abused by my father was part of the reason why I self medicated – to not want to feel anything. I also cut. I was burning myself with cigarettes. I hated myself. I didn’t want to live. But it didn’t even seem like the drugs were working anymore. It wasn’t taking all the pain away. So maybe rehab was where I should be at. I decided that I needed help. My kids deserved better. My three youngest lost their father, so that made me think, ‘I’m the only parent for them. I’ve got to do something. I have to at least try.’ I did rehab at  Queen of Peace Center  for 21 days, and it made me realize I need to speak up for myself and tell people what I need, so I can get what I need. The day I was supposed to leave rehab, I had nowhere to go, and I didn’t want to go back to my ex-boyfriend’s house. He was still using drugs, we would fight all the time, and I would be the one that was getting hurt and beaten up. My counselor told me about Magdalene House. We talked to the staff, they invited me to tour it, and there was room for me to stay. So I packed my bags. It looked like a mansion when I got there. Now, I’ve been here almost two years, and I’ll be the second graduate. I haven’t used in 18 months and 2 weeks, and that’s the longest I’ve been clean. At least I completed something. I feel like I’ve done a lot. I’m going to make it through this program.”

“He was very controlling. He didn’t want me to go anywhere. If I went somewhere, I had to be back at a certain time. If I got a job, it had to be in the area where we stayed so he could keep an eye on me. He didn’t want me to do anything. He wanted to give me the money, but if he gave me the money, then I had to do something for him. He was angry all the time. We were both using. I knew I had to leave because I felt like if I stayed there, I was losing all of me. I didn’t even know me anymore. I was doing all this stuff for him and getting slapped around because I wasn’t acting the ‘right way’ or whatever. It felt like if I stayed, I was going to die eventually. I didn’t want my mom to see me on the news. Seeing my mother physically abused by my father was part of the reason why I self medicated – to not want to feel anything. I also cut. I was burning myself with cigarettes. I hated myself. I didn’t want to live. But it didn’t even seem like the drugs were working anymore. It wasn’t taking all the pain away. So maybe rehab was where I should be at. I decided that I needed help. My kids deserved better. My three youngest lost their father, so that made me think, ‘I’m the only parent for them. I’ve got to do something. I have to at least try.’ I did rehab at Queen of Peace Center for 21 days, and it made me realize I need to speak up for myself and tell people what I need, so I can get what I need. The day I was supposed to leave rehab, I had nowhere to go, and I didn’t want to go back to my ex-boyfriend’s house. He was still using drugs, we would fight all the time, and I would be the one that was getting hurt and beaten up. My counselor told me about Magdalene House. We talked to the staff, they invited me to tour it, and there was room for me to stay. So I packed my bags. It looked like a mansion when I got there. Now, I’ve been here almost two years, and I’ll be the second graduate. I haven’t used in 18 months and 2 weeks, and that’s the longest I’ve been clean. At least I completed something. I feel like I’ve done a lot. I’m going to make it through this program.”

 “I was having bad dreams about allowing him to abuse me. Then, I had a dream where I took my power back. In the dreams before, I just let him hit me. I took the abuse. But in this one, I didn’t. My words were my power. In my dream I told him, ‘No, you’re not going to abuse me. You’re not with me anymore.’ I was telling him all the things I wanted to tell him: ‘No, I’m worthy. No, I don’t want to take your crap.’ That dream was powerful because before I was always taking it. But, this time, I didn’t put my hands on him. I just said, ‘I’m not taking your abuse. I know who I am now.’ I have that voice. My voice is my power. That means a lot. That means I can change things. In group, I would look down and not talk to anybody. The leaders said, ‘You’re going to have to speak up. You’re going to have to tell your story to get out of yourself.’ They always say when you share your story, you don’t know who it’s going to help. There might be somebody that I haven’t even spoken to that’s been through prostitution, and they might want help. Maybe they’ll come up to me and say, ‘How did you get through that?’ Maybe others won’t share because it’s embarrassing. But I went through that, and I want to help somebody else. I see a lot of women speaking up who were trafficked. I see men speaking up also. Not a lot of men, but some are saying, ‘Yeah, I was with another man just to get one more.’ That gives me hope to tell my story because people are opening up saying, ‘I did that, too.’ There’s a whole bunch of support out there. Women are powerful. I don’t think a woman should ever be abused, or be a slave, or feel like she needs to stay with him because she needs support. They don’t need to take crap from anybody.”

“I was having bad dreams about allowing him to abuse me. Then, I had a dream where I took my power back. In the dreams before, I just let him hit me. I took the abuse. But in this one, I didn’t. My words were my power. In my dream I told him, ‘No, you’re not going to abuse me. You’re not with me anymore.’ I was telling him all the things I wanted to tell him: ‘No, I’m worthy. No, I don’t want to take your crap.’ That dream was powerful because before I was always taking it. But, this time, I didn’t put my hands on him. I just said, ‘I’m not taking your abuse. I know who I am now.’ I have that voice. My voice is my power. That means a lot. That means I can change things. In group, I would look down and not talk to anybody. The leaders said, ‘You’re going to have to speak up. You’re going to have to tell your story to get out of yourself.’ They always say when you share your story, you don’t know who it’s going to help. There might be somebody that I haven’t even spoken to that’s been through prostitution, and they might want help. Maybe they’ll come up to me and say, ‘How did you get through that?’ Maybe others won’t share because it’s embarrassing. But I went through that, and I want to help somebody else. I see a lot of women speaking up who were trafficked. I see men speaking up also. Not a lot of men, but some are saying, ‘Yeah, I was with another man just to get one more.’ That gives me hope to tell my story because people are opening up saying, ‘I did that, too.’ There’s a whole bunch of support out there. Women are powerful. I don’t think a woman should ever be abused, or be a slave, or feel like she needs to stay with him because she needs support. They don’t need to take crap from anybody.”

 “Things from the past might come back, so I write how I’m feeling. I go to trauma therapy, which helps. And I have my sponsor that I can talk to when I wonder, ‘Hey, what should I do about this?’”

“Things from the past might come back, so I write how I’m feeling. I go to trauma therapy, which helps. And I have my sponsor that I can talk to when I wonder, ‘Hey, what should I do about this?’”


 “When I was using meth, it completely made me lose all control and made me lose my mind. I was hearing voices and developed drug-induced schizophrenia. I thought everyone was trying to kill me and that my mom was even in on it. I was living with people that didn’t care what happened to me. It was really unsafe. Eventually I left. I found my mom’s house, I knocked on the door, and she let me stay there. A few days later, we went to meet a social worker, and I entered rehab. My counselor said she knew the perfect place for me. She got Magdalene House on the phone, and the director asked me if I’d like to go back to school. I just started crying, happy at the fact that that could happen. She asked me a few more questions, like if I had ever traded sex for food, shelter, or drugs, and I said, ‘Yes.’ I learned about the structure of going to 90 meetings in 90 days, not having a cell phone or leaving on our own for the first six months. It sounded like a lot, but I was willing to do anything and everything to build my own life and not have to rely on other people. I arrived on September 21st in 2015, and I was terrified. But the director was right there when I got out of the car, she greeted me with a hug, and she told me she loved me. The moment I walked into Magdalene House, I felt like I could breathe again. For so long, I was holding my breath out of fear or paranoia from all the drugs I was on. The women that were there, they hugged me and told me they were glad I was there. Before that, I never knew what it meant to be in a community – helping each other, listening, and supporting one another. The best day there was that first day, just to have my own bed to sleep in. Growing up, I lived with my mom and had my own bed. But when I was doing drugs, I didn’t have my own bed for a long time.”

“When I was using meth, it completely made me lose all control and made me lose my mind. I was hearing voices and developed drug-induced schizophrenia. I thought everyone was trying to kill me and that my mom was even in on it. I was living with people that didn’t care what happened to me. It was really unsafe. Eventually I left. I found my mom’s house, I knocked on the door, and she let me stay there. A few days later, we went to meet a social worker, and I entered rehab. My counselor said she knew the perfect place for me. She got Magdalene House on the phone, and the director asked me if I’d like to go back to school. I just started crying, happy at the fact that that could happen. She asked me a few more questions, like if I had ever traded sex for food, shelter, or drugs, and I said, ‘Yes.’ I learned about the structure of going to 90 meetings in 90 days, not having a cell phone or leaving on our own for the first six months. It sounded like a lot, but I was willing to do anything and everything to build my own life and not have to rely on other people. I arrived on September 21st in 2015, and I was terrified. But the director was right there when I got out of the car, she greeted me with a hug, and she told me she loved me. The moment I walked into Magdalene House, I felt like I could breathe again. For so long, I was holding my breath out of fear or paranoia from all the drugs I was on. The women that were there, they hugged me and told me they were glad I was there. Before that, I never knew what it meant to be in a community – helping each other, listening, and supporting one another. The best day there was that first day, just to have my own bed to sleep in. Growing up, I lived with my mom and had my own bed. But when I was doing drugs, I didn’t have my own bed for a long time.”

 “After high school I went to college and was drinking a lot of alcohol. After college, I was with men I didn’t like, but they’d get me drugs. Some I lived with, and they were abusive. After I broke up with one, I ended up staying with a friend, and this guy from high school that I barely knew wrote me on Facebook. He saw my erratic posts. He said he was a police officer, even though he wasn’t, and I believed him because he had a police car and uniform. He asked if I wanted to go on a ride along, and he picked me up. I ended up marrying him because he told me he could help me with my legal problems. I didn’t know him or anything about him, but we were doing Xanax, he had food, and gave me a roof over my head. It was the only place I had to go. My mom wouldn’t let me live with her. I had lost all my friends. He had a pastor come to the house and marry us within 24 hours. A few days later, he convinced me to get his name tattooed on my wrist. He told me he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to leave. He threatened suicide if I left, and he had guns. I called the police because I thought he was going to kill himself. And I turned myself in because I had warrants, but the judge would only release me back to his house because we were married. He said, ‘If you go to drug court and come back every week, then I’ll release you.’ I didn’t want to go back there, but that’s what happened. I tried to leave again, we started fighting, and he called the cops on me. I went back to jail. It makes me mad to think of how much control I didn’t have. It makes me angry to know that people were treating me like that.”

“After high school I went to college and was drinking a lot of alcohol. After college, I was with men I didn’t like, but they’d get me drugs. Some I lived with, and they were abusive. After I broke up with one, I ended up staying with a friend, and this guy from high school that I barely knew wrote me on Facebook. He saw my erratic posts. He said he was a police officer, even though he wasn’t, and I believed him because he had a police car and uniform. He asked if I wanted to go on a ride along, and he picked me up. I ended up marrying him because he told me he could help me with my legal problems. I didn’t know him or anything about him, but we were doing Xanax, he had food, and gave me a roof over my head. It was the only place I had to go. My mom wouldn’t let me live with her. I had lost all my friends. He had a pastor come to the house and marry us within 24 hours. A few days later, he convinced me to get his name tattooed on my wrist. He told me he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to leave. He threatened suicide if I left, and he had guns. I called the police because I thought he was going to kill himself. And I turned myself in because I had warrants, but the judge would only release me back to his house because we were married. He said, ‘If you go to drug court and come back every week, then I’ll release you.’ I didn’t want to go back there, but that’s what happened. I tried to leave again, we started fighting, and he called the cops on me. I went back to jail. It makes me mad to think of how much control I didn’t have. It makes me angry to know that people were treating me like that.”

 “What triggered you to start using when you were young?”  “I’m trying to figure out how to be honest but not make my mom seem like a bad person. She did the best she could, but she was stressed out all the time. Even if she wasn’t working, she was stressed. I liked being with my friends and not feeling things. Once I discovered a way to not feel things, I immediately became hooked to numbing myself. Drinking and using drugs made me feel like I was enough. Made me feel better. I had more confidence. My mom also was always in abusive relationships. She told me about my dad and how he would beat her. I know my mom is the way she is because of how hurt she is. I know that she didn’t do anything on purpose. It’s just that she didn’t know how else to be. I love her and today we’re close. I just don't want her to feel at fault for anything that happened to me. If it wasn't for her I may have never made it to rehab. She saved my life.”

“What triggered you to start using when you were young?”

“I’m trying to figure out how to be honest but not make my mom seem like a bad person. She did the best she could, but she was stressed out all the time. Even if she wasn’t working, she was stressed. I liked being with my friends and not feeling things. Once I discovered a way to not feel things, I immediately became hooked to numbing myself. Drinking and using drugs made me feel like I was enough. Made me feel better. I had more confidence. My mom also was always in abusive relationships. She told me about my dad and how he would beat her. I know my mom is the way she is because of how hurt she is. I know that she didn’t do anything on purpose. It’s just that she didn’t know how else to be. I love her and today we’re close. I just don't want her to feel at fault for anything that happened to me. If it wasn't for her I may have never made it to rehab. She saved my life.”

 “I graduated from the program on September 21st. Leading up to graduation, I was a little worried and scared. I was also excited to be out on my own and be independent, but I’m the first one living at a house in University City for the Magdalene House graduates. It’s just me for now. It’s good that I can go home and be with myself because I like being with me today. I was able to get divorced. I am glad that my family talks to me. All the social workers and my sponsor have been really helpful, but the people that helped me the most have been my sisters at Magdalene. They’re the ones who have been through the same experiences that I’ve been through. They just get it. They listen without trying to fix it. They hug me and say they love me. Now, when new women come into the house, I can say, ‘I felt the same way.’ I give them hugs and let them know that I’m here. I feel confident. I feel empowered and not afraid to live. I feel brave. I know that whenever somebody is not treating me right, I can recognize that feeling and know that it’s not okay. I can trust my body and when it feels wrong, usually it is. Magdalene’s also taught me so much about communication and working through conflict. I never knew you could talk through things. I always thought it ended with yelling, or fighting, or hitting. I didn’t know you could find the underlying issue and just talk it out. I’m learning to live without depending on somebody else. I’m paying bills now and going grocery shopping on my own. I hope to get my driver’s license back soon. I like to listen to music, sing, dance, and watch TV. It’s nice to be able to do what I want when I want and not have to answer to anybody. I’m most proud of being back in school and that I’m not on drugs anymore. I am studying accounting, but I want to switch to social work to help women who have been through similar experiences as me.”

“I graduated from the program on September 21st. Leading up to graduation, I was a little worried and scared. I was also excited to be out on my own and be independent, but I’m the first one living at a house in University City for the Magdalene House graduates. It’s just me for now. It’s good that I can go home and be with myself because I like being with me today. I was able to get divorced. I am glad that my family talks to me. All the social workers and my sponsor have been really helpful, but the people that helped me the most have been my sisters at Magdalene. They’re the ones who have been through the same experiences that I’ve been through. They just get it. They listen without trying to fix it. They hug me and say they love me. Now, when new women come into the house, I can say, ‘I felt the same way.’ I give them hugs and let them know that I’m here. I feel confident. I feel empowered and not afraid to live. I feel brave. I know that whenever somebody is not treating me right, I can recognize that feeling and know that it’s not okay. I can trust my body and when it feels wrong, usually it is. Magdalene’s also taught me so much about communication and working through conflict. I never knew you could talk through things. I always thought it ended with yelling, or fighting, or hitting. I didn’t know you could find the underlying issue and just talk it out. I’m learning to live without depending on somebody else. I’m paying bills now and going grocery shopping on my own. I hope to get my driver’s license back soon. I like to listen to music, sing, dance, and watch TV. It’s nice to be able to do what I want when I want and not have to answer to anybody. I’m most proud of being back in school and that I’m not on drugs anymore. I am studying accounting, but I want to switch to social work to help women who have been through similar experiences as me.”


 “We knew we wanted to have a social enterprise at Magdalene House but we didn’t know what that would look like. We thought of dog walking or selling candles. We brainstormed all these cool phrases that we thought would look good on shirts, and were important, and bold. We have ‘Love Is Brave,’ ‘Compassion Is Badass,’ ‘I’m a Work in Progress,’ and ‘Live Bravely.’ One of the ones we were going to have is ‘Ask Me About My Boundaries.’ So,  Bravely  is our social enterprise, and we employ and empower women survivors of drug abuse and sexual exploitation. Working at this apparel company has been awesome because the women can come to work exactly as they are and it’s understood that we all have bad days. Everyone in the house helps run it and the hours work around the groups in the house. After six months, you can work at Bravely. We chose the name because being brave helps get you through the day. Being brave is empowering to other people. And everybody is capable of being brave. Deep down, everyone is brave.”

“We knew we wanted to have a social enterprise at Magdalene House but we didn’t know what that would look like. We thought of dog walking or selling candles. We brainstormed all these cool phrases that we thought would look good on shirts, and were important, and bold. We have ‘Love Is Brave,’ ‘Compassion Is Badass,’ ‘I’m a Work in Progress,’ and ‘Live Bravely.’ One of the ones we were going to have is ‘Ask Me About My Boundaries.’ So, Bravely is our social enterprise, and we employ and empower women survivors of drug abuse and sexual exploitation. Working at this apparel company has been awesome because the women can come to work exactly as they are and it’s understood that we all have bad days. Everyone in the house helps run it and the hours work around the groups in the house. After six months, you can work at Bravely. We chose the name because being brave helps get you through the day. Being brave is empowering to other people. And everybody is capable of being brave. Deep down, everyone is brave.”