My name is Nia and my life matters.
I am the only child of a teenage mother who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. During my childhood I felt depressed, worthless, misunderstood and ashamed; I had thoughts of suicide. I thought that suicide would bring me peace and that my absence would take the burden off my family.
I didn't have many friends going up because my mother separated me from my peers. I saw my mother being mistreated because of her condition and constantly worried about a future for my mother and me. I knew what my dad looked like, however he was never a father figure in my life. Then, my grandparents were granted custody of me by Family Court but living with them was uncertain and abusive.
Letters from the state began to arrive stating that my guardians would no longer receive benefits because I was turning the legal age of 18. I knew at some point my grandparents would ask me to leave, so I began to pack my belongings, feeling forsaken and alone. As my 18th birthday neared, one of my grandparents asked me where I was working. I replied a local fast-food chain and a retail store. He said those jobs were not sufficient to earn enough money for my keep and that there wasn't enough room in the house for me and I had to leave.
The next morning I met my youth advocate at Social Services. I began to cry as I explained my situation, especially when I tried to talk about my future goals. She recommended I go to Family & Children's Association's emergency shelter known as Nassau Haven until I was able to find long-term stable housing.
Two hours later a staff member from Nassau Haven came to pick me up and immediately upon my arrival helped me make important phone calls regarding my health insurance. While there I kept busy by reading, making calls and working because I didn't know what would happen next.
Then I heard a fellow resident explain FCA's Walkabout, a place that teaches young people how to become independent while learning new skills and learning the importance of a good education. The next day I remembered talking to one of the counselors, and I wanted to know waht I needed to do in order to transition to Walkabout. He said to me "you have to be motivated, focused, and goal oriented." I replied "that's it?" he said "yes that's it."
To make a long story short, after a short period of stay at Nassau Haven, I went on an interview at Walkabout. When I arrived I noticed how clean and spacious it was and how comfortable the other residents were. The counselor and I talked for a long time and when it was time for me to go I cried all over again because I didn't think I was going to be accepted because there was a waiting list. I was worried that I would become homeless. A couple days later I was informed I was officially a resident at Walkabout and I felt a huge sense of relief. The day I moved into Walkabout, I felt a true sense of peace, I also had a feeling of being blessed and said to myself "I will not let this opportunity go to waste!"
At Walkabout I learned resilience. I was taught how to cook, how to apply for college and jobs, how to dress for job interviews and how to drive by going to driving school. I became stronger than ever!
I was shown compassion and experienced attention from caring adults. The staff often asked how I was doing and how I was feeling. They inquired about my schoolwork and how things were going at work. I was able to experience joy and happiness for the first time in my life. Recently my 18-month stay at Walkabout came to an end and I was ready to move into my own room. Well, well, well! Let me tell you the truth, that transition was not an easy one for me! Who would want to leave true family behind? To me, Walkabout was and still is a true family to me and many others.
During my long stay at Walkabout, I also learned the value of hard earned money! I saved over $18,000 to begin a new journey. I am currently at Nassau Community College and on target to graduate and transfer to a four year college.
Although I have moved out of Walkabout, the staff and I have maintained our connection. Here is a little secret: I really needed their support after I moved out. They continue to offer it and it has been invaluable. These people are like extended family and I really appreciate all they have done and continue to do in my life. Just in case I didn't say it, thank you to all of the Walkabout staff, my FCA mentors, volunteers, and last but not least, everyone who supports Family & Children's Association. Keep up the great work you are doing and thank you again!
About Family & Children's Association
Family & Children’s Association is a not-for-profit agency helping nearly 20,000 of our neighbors each year. For more than 130 years, we have worked to protect and strengthen vulnerable children, seniors, families and communities on Long Island.
Through an integrated network of services and counseling, Family & Children’s Association provides help and hope to underserved and disadvantaged individuals struggling to build better lives. We offer Addiction Treatment and Behavioral Health Services; Educational Opportunities and Life Skills for Youth; Strategies for Building Family Success; Counseling, Services and Support for Adults and Seniors; Shelter and Services for Homeless Youth, Adults and Veterans; and Innovative Approaches to Strengthening Communities.