At our recent annual Youth Awards Ceremony, speaker Spenser shared these words of encouragement to fellow youth…
I’d like to start this speech with a story. It was April 19th, 2015. I had run out of options, and hit the end of the road so to speak. I had come to a point in life where I was so lost and forgotten, I felt I deserved to be abandoned. I don’t really know if words can describe how empty I felt. I had become addicted. The only reason I remember my clean date is because it’s the same day I walked into shelter. April 19th.
I am not sure if any of you sitting out here have ever felt that same miserable, gut-wrenching emptiness. If you have, I empathize and wish you the best. If you have not, I wish you never have to feel such a feeling ever in your existence. But if you so happen to, I hope you find a place such as New Avenues for Youth to help you through it.
I first ended up homeless when I was 17. I was couch surfing with a family who let me stay in exchange for some light child care and just helping out where I could. Since then I hopped around, a few jobs and a couple different apartments in between all the madness. Eventually I turned down a dark road, I got involved with drugs and criminal activity. At first it’s just small stuff easier to rationalize, but once you rationalize a little it becomes a rather slippery slope. And I felt the person I used to be slipping. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was not even sure I recognized who I was looking at. I looked the same physically, but my perspective had grown rather grim.
If you are wondering what the point of this disheartening tale is, it is meant to serve as an important reminder. A reminder, to all of my fellow survivors, survivors of trauma, survivors of abuse, or addiction, a reminder that hope is not lost – this is not the end of the story, I promise – just keep turning the page.
Now where was I…Oh yes I was on a slippery slope…
Funny thing about life is it doesn’t really come with a road map. No Instructions – we all just kinda figure it out at our own pace, in our own ways. Every day I am learning a little bit more about myself and what successful habits are for me. Nobody’s perfect but everyone is worthy of some compassion and empathy.
When I first got to New Avenues, that’s exactly what I found. I was so excited to find out about all of these amazing resources. My first big step was education. I just need to stop here and thank the New Avenues Education staff – if it wasn’t for that program, I don’t know if I would have made it off the streets and into college. When I walked into that space, they didn’t care about my past or the mistakes I had made. They saw me as a young, intelligent individual starving for knowledge. They helped nourish that and helped me believe in myself again.
Psychology Today say’s “loneliness depends entirely on the subjective quality of your relationships—on whether you feel emotionally or socially disconnected from those around you.” Being homeless is lonely; often times you can feel completely isolated from the rest of the world. At New Avenues I didn’t feel that anymore. And it’s not just the program – it’s the people, both staff and youth.
I made some great friendships here; we played games, we took hikes with PAVE, and for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel alone or empty. And once you start to feel like maybe there is a place for you, you find a reason to keep fighting. I realized I deserved to be happy. Now I am two years clean and sober. I am also twelve credits away from an associates degree. And honestly I owe it to some of the people in this room, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Please remember, you are not alone. People want great things for each and every one of you. And they might push you and it won’t always be easy but it will always be worth the effort. Believe in yourself. Wrapping up, I want to congratulate everyone in this room. Not only for your awards but for continuing to be survivors. I hope that you continue to find a path that is both successful and happy.