For most of us, home is the place from which our life journey begins. Not so Alexandra. However, home may be where her journey – or at least this leg of it – finally ends.
Alexandra – or Alex as she is called by most – has lived in more places in her young life than even she can keep track of. Yet none of them, by any stretch, could be called home. At the tender age of six, Alex was spirited away to what would be the first in a long string of foster homes. In the beginning, she was sheltered with her two triplet sisters, but eventually she was separated even from them, moving from one bad situation to another by herself. There was the house where she shared a bedroom with 5 other children, 3 of whom were boys. There was the house whose windows were so thick with nicotine and where the air was so full of smoke from her foster mother’s cigarettes, that Alex could barely breathe. There was the house run by an alcoholic who fed her one meal a day consisting of a piece of bread and cheese. There was the house where she was only allowed to bathe once a week, the one where her shoes never fit, and the one where she was forced to do all the household chores like an indentured servant. And there was verbal and physical abuse along the way as well. Alex has none of the happy childhood memories that most of us love to recount over and over again as time goes by. Instead, she developed a simmering anger towards the system and an implacable mistrust of…everyone. The way she sees it is, “If no one is going to look out for you, then you look out for yourself.” This meant standing up for herself in a way that to others came off as ‘mouthing off,’ which more often than not got Alex in trouble. Finally – her breaking point she calls it –Alex was sent to a ‘group home’ which, in reality, was nothing more than a ‘lock-up facility.’ She was not sure how much more she could take. But, like many of the young adults we meet at New Pathways, Alex also developed a keen sense of self, an inner strength she drew upon to forge a different path for herself, and the unwavering determination to do what must be done to get there. By age 18, Alex had attended as many schools as foster homes she’d lived in. Her education was one of fits and starts. Undaunted, Alex eventually got her GED and a full time job as a medical assistant. She saved enough money to buy a car. She even lived in it for a while and – in a repeat of an earlier chapter in her life – sustained her life on one meal a day.
“I’d go get a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s. That would have to last the day,” Alex explained without a hint of self-pity. And so, she made her way.
Now, Alex’s life was not without a smattering of positive influences. A Catholic middle school where she learned important values. A court judge who took particular interest in Alex and her plight and did not give up on her. And New Pathways.
By the time Alex arrived at New Pathways, she was still gainfully employed as a medical assistant. New Pathways provided an apartment for Alex to live in and – because Alex had a job and did not need the monthly stipend allocated by New Pathways – put Alex’s stipend away in an escrow account for her to access upon leaving the program.
“New Pathways helped me complete my journey,” Alex said. “They taught me so much about personal finances and budgeting, bank accounts and savings accounts, planning and thinking ahead.” There is something perhaps even more important that New Pathways taught Alex.
“There are two people that I can’t thank enough. Nicole and Tonya. They taught me to keep my mouth shut,” Alex laughed. “Well, what they taught me was, ‘Not everything needs a response.’ I went from running my mouth to not saying everything that came into my head. It was a valuable lesson,” Alex admitted. Through New Pathways Alex also developed invaluable social, communication, and conflict resolution skills.
“Those skills have been a big help in almost every life situation including work and financial negotiations,” Alex confessed.
New Pathways also helped Alex move into her own apartment through their NICHAC program (Now I Can Have a Cat), a process where only eligible New Pathways clients take the next step to independence by finding and moving into their own apartment in the neighborhood of their choice while still under the care of New Pathways. The last step Alex would take before aging out of the foster care system and truly being on her own.
Though Alex is not yet at a point in her life where she is willing to embrace the word ‘trust’ as regards any of her relationships, she does admit to a sense of faith and gratitude. Especially towards New Pathways.
“I have faith in them because they had faith in me,” Alex explained.
Now 21, Alex is pursuing an associate’s degree while continuing to work full time. She has saved enough money to put a down payment on her very first, very real house. And so, earlier this month, Alex and her 5 cats moved in to their very own place where they will create many happy memories together.
Which brings us back to the beginning. Or shall we say… home.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.