By Carole Turner
Casey first came around the Baton Rouge Dream Center over three years ago when she was homeless, 15 years old and pregnant. At the time all we really had to offer her was referrals to shelters and unwed mothers homes, some free clothes, groceries, a few free meals and some toiletries… and our time.
Susan started spending time with her, picking her up, taking her places she needed to go and she came to the women’s bible study meetings every Fridays.
Then she started to see that we were really staying around. She saw that a lot of people cared about her and her family and that we would do all we could to help her.
Casey is 18 years old now, her son is three, she was recently homeless again because her mother couldn’t pay the bills. She has never known her father and has a 4th grade education.
But Casey has started to dream. She wants to go to culinary school and one day open her own restaurant. So, the Street Outreach/Homeless Youth Program at the Dream Center, is helping her to achieve her goal.
Casey see’s now that her ticket out of the cycle, out of poverty, is to dream and work toward that dream. But dreams only go so far when you have a 4th grade education. She was unable to pass the entrance exam to get into the GED preparation class, without a GED she can’t get into technical college to learn culinary arts.
She also didn’t have an ID or a Social Security card for her or her son, without these she couldn’t enroll him in child care so that she could go to school and get a job. For an 18 year old single mom, with no transportation, all these obstacles are paralyzing.
So, we are starting to chip away at them one by one. Next week she will start being tutored one day a week by an LSU student volunteer, (who just last week signed up to be a mentor to under-aged at-risk youth) with the goal of getting her up to a 6th grade level so she can test into the GED class in June. Charity, the lady I work for, took her to get her SS cards. and to apply for a job lead we had. The job looks promising.
This is what I get to do two days a week now that I am working for the Homeless/At Risk Youth program at the Dream Center, I get to help girls like Casey work toward their dreams by driving them to places like the DMV, job interviews, technical college and Social Security office.
I really do believe there are so many girls like Casey who just feel there are too many obstacles, to much history fighting against them to ever break the cycle of poverty. They see that lie, hear that lie, and believe that lie.
They also know that most people think “why do for a man what he can do for himself”, and it would seem that these little things like getting your Social Security card are things they “can” do for themselves. But the truth is that as Christians, we are told to help the poor, and I believe enabling someone to work toward their goals and dreams is not entitlement or welfare mentality.
It’s a “building up” mentality.
I believe that helping the homeless dream and see a future, coming alongside their dreams with resources and support, is the way to see real change and cycles broken. When we have the opportunity to believe in a young person, encourage them and show them there is hope and another way of living, it can change mindsets and the course of their lives.
When I talk to Casey I tell her to dream big. I tell her she can have a successful restaurant one day, if she works hard. I encourage her to work hard. I help her fill out her application for child care assistance, I tell her she’s come far and will go farther. I get to believe in her and help her to believe in herself.
I’m not naive, I’ve already learned the hard way that out of 10 girls we help to get to the SS office, DMV, or technical college, maybe only one will actually break out of the cycle, get into college, change her future, but I will do it for the one.
She could be the next Maya Angelou, Condeleezza Rice, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Priscilla Shirer, or Sharon Weston Broom. She could be the Deborah of her community, leading them to victory and triumph. (See Judges 4-5 for more about this.)
It only takes one.
Carole is a writer, artist, singer and orphan care advocate. She is married to Dean and mother of three children — one miracle of birth, one adopted from here in the States, and one just adopted from Ethiopia. She blogs at The Wardrobe and the White Tree.