Sierra* was left to make sense of her trauma-filled past and losses and found a home at the Morris Program, staffed by a team who would encourage her, challenge her, and most importantly, just be there with her.
“We don’t know how to help you,” is what the last placement home told 15-year-old Sierra before she found herself without a safe place to live. At different points in her childhood, she had lived with her parents, grandmother, aunt, and 3 placement homes. She soon found her way to the ACH Pat O’Neal Youth Emergency Shelter.
Sierra came in sad, angry, and depressed about her life. Her parents were so neglectful, she often took on the role of caregiver for her siblings. Then she saw people close to her suddenly pass away. After two months at the Shelter, she was still feeling anxious and expressed a lot of mood swings.
ACH has a continuum of care
The Shelter team thought moving into the Morris Program home at ACH would be the next best transition for Sierra and she agreed. She was admittedly nervous and scared when she first moved into her new home. She wasn’t sure if the other girls would be mean or if the staff would be able to help her.
Describing herself as strong, independent, and outgoing, there’s a unique resilience to Sierra that reveals her compassion, steadiness, and confidence. She quickly identifies herself as the “mama bear” of her two siblings, her twin sister and younger sister by three years. As a result of their trauma and neglectful childhood, Sierra has always been the most comfortable taking control, making decisions, and more importantly, not relying on anyone for help.
When you sit down with Sierra, two things become evident: 1) you think she’s well into her 30s, and 2) what she’s most proud of in life are “her girls,” for whom she’d do anything. ACH Morris Program Supervisor Fredresha Overstreet says, “She is motherly. There is this sense of responsibility about her. She is open and outgoing, but she is learning to build trust with others.”
Because she had gotten used to doing everything on her own, Sierra struggles to believe she is worthy to be loved by anyone. “One of my biggest challenges during my time at ACH,” Sierra shares, “has been being open with others and feeling secure to ask for assistance.”
Finally Feeling Free
One of her goals when moving into the Morris home was to worry about her sisters less, set boundaries, and learn to take care of herself. Sierra wanted to learn how to rebuild her relationship with her siblings to just be their sister and not their mom or caregiver, and only prioritize what a 15-year-old should.
Sierra now speaks from a place of freedom: “I grew up to see the world differently. It’s not rainbows and butterflies. I can’t grow up and dwell over it. I can just learn to make it better. This is what made me this way, but I can’t blame it.”
She is free and ready to let go, loosen the grip of any grudges she may have held, release the pains of her past, and find hope for not just her future but her sisters as well. When she thinks about her sisters today, “I’m hopeful for the girls to blossom. I want them to do what our parents couldn’t. I want them to chase their dreams.”
When she thinks about her own future she shares, “I want to fulfill my dreams and do things I thought I couldn’t do. I want to help other kids, and I want to travel.”
The Shelter invited Sierra into a safe environment to rest and take a deep breath. The Morris Program offered her a place to reflect on her past and gain the needed self-awareness and skills to grow and hope for her future. At every turn, the entire ACH team from the Shelter to Morris has been there for Sierra.
Our people make the difference
She reflects on her interactions with team members, “Ms. Fredresha brought me out of my shell, Mr. Danny is always so excited to see me, Ms. Dionne is always there to talk, and Ms. Mahoganey always pushes me. They have offered me so many opportunities.” The ACH team has expressed patience, care, and understanding toward Sierra. She has felt their presence with her every step of her healing journey.
While Sierra’s twin is in a different group home, they both hope to be adopted by the same family. Their younger sister is living with a foster family and hopes to be adopted by them soon. It has been difficult for the girls to be apart from each other, but they have regular Zoom calls and stay in contact frequently.
Sierra understands the help ACH has provided and encourages others with, “there are people out there who love you! Don’t make things hard on them because you’re only making it hard on yourself.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.
El programa Morris
The Morris program at the ACH Wedgwood Residential Campus provides safe, stable, and nurturing homes for youth, ages 14-17, who are unable to live with their families or in a community home setting. These youth have been traumatized to the extent that it is difficult for them to express their emotions appropriately. This program provides home-based intervention therapy that assists youth in gaining independent living skills in a safe and supportive environment. Youth will work toward gaining the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of settings. This may include a family foster care placement, family reunification, a transition to independence, or an independent living program.
At the Wedgwood Transitional Living program, we focus on factors that have been proven to help youth be successful post-foster care. We aid in their academic achievement, vocational planning and by assisting them in finding gainful employment or volunteer experience. We also help the children in our care to attain a valid ID or driver’s license, to improve their ability to manage their own behavior, to cope with stress, and to gain insight into their interests and strengths.
The Morris Program will face a projected funding deficit of $289,439 in 2022. Consider donating to support ACH programs and youth like Sierra today.
Refugio de emergencia para jóvenes Pat O'Neal
The Shelter is a 24/7 residential-based program that offers homeless, runaway, throwaway and trafficked youth, ages 10-17, emergency housing and care while ACH works to connect them with appropriate social services, reunite them with their families, or find alternative safe and supportive long-term living arrangements.
The United States Department of Homeland Security said “ACH has been an invaluable partner in the fight against human trafficking. ACH faithfully provides a place where the victim’s safety, well-being, and immediate needs can be met and further assists in the transition to safe and stable housing.”
At an average cost per child of $258 per night, ACH is facing a projected funding gap for the Shelter of $579,366. Your donations can help children find what may be the first safe and stable sanctuary with protective adult support in their young lives.