(All credit for this article goes to the Daughters of Worth organization.)
She has been one of our girls for almost four years now… and her story is one that continues to keep me awake at night. She has experienced more than most of us can even begin to imagine, and yet she continues to persevere – to fight for her life. And we are here to fight for her. This is why we exist.
The moment that she entered into Daughters of Worth, she had my attention. Her sassy mouth, cutting eyes and unwavering attitude often provided generous opportunities for her to engage with the school principal or school Resource officer. Yet there was something about her eyes…. they sparkled. And when she smiled, there was a glimmer of hope that you could actually see. That is, if you took the time to pause and actually look.
While many were frustrated by her outbursts of emotion or defiance to complete her tasks, I could not help but to wholeheartedly love this young girl. This girl who so desperately just wants to be free.
Throughout the months of getting to know her and listening to bits and pieces of her story that she was willing to release, I soon discovered that she was trusting me – with parts of her heart – that more than likely, she had not made available to very many at all.
Her nights were nothing like mine. While I slept in a warm, cozy bed with comfy pillows to rest my head and blankets to wrap me up tightly, she slept on the floor. On a stained, nasty, soiled mattress. While bugs crawled around her floor and walls. How do I know this? Because I saw it. I saw it when she invited me to come to her space and proudly welcomed me to her room.
The smell of that space will never leave me. Drugs and rotting food. Mold and cigarettes. Animal droppings and trash strewn from room to room. There was no running water, no utilities in the space. I had come with groceries, but soon discovered that there wasn’t a place to even hold them. The stove had not worked in over a year, and there was no microwave or source to heat food. The milk that I had purchased could not be kept cold because there wasn’t even a refrigerator to hold it. There were empty cans everywhere. Spaghettios and ravioli pop top cans that had been devoured and then left on the floor. There was hardly a space in this residence that was not crowded with bug infestation. This is where she lived. My sweet girl.
Her room was dark and dingy. The only thing that was in this space was a nasty, stained, soiled mattress on the floor. I will never forget this – as long as I live. This is where she slept. My beautiful girl. No pillows. No sheets. No blankets. No bed. Nothing. Just this little mattress holding her body from the floor – while bugs crawled all around her.
There were nights that she would sleep in the bathtub, she shared. Because when the gang violence was heightened, the bullets would often graze into her bedroom walls. She had learned that the bathroom was the safest place to be. So when this took place, this is where she slept – the nights that she was able to sleep – to feel safe.
They often wonder why she’s so angry and where she “went wrong.” What they don’t see is the beautiful girl who lights up when she has the chance to rest, have a good, hot meal, receive new clothes or visit a place that she’s never seen. They often say that she’s too “hot tempered” or too defiant. Yet, what she exhibits is a girl who has learned to survive.
At least twice a year, she changes residence. From the dad with gang violence and dire poverty to the mom who bounces from motel to motel to pay her bills. They haven’t seen her when she came “home” to find fifteen people all living in a 2 bedroom home. They haven’t experienced her being left home alone for weekends on end. They haven’t heard her frustration when her 1 year old cousin was left in her care over night – for multiple nights straight. They don’t understand that when she comes to school, it’s the first time that she has had a warm or cool space to breathe – with running water to wash her face and a hot meal to eat. So, here in the midst of this Pandemic – it’s more than just a frustration or inconvenience. This is a young girl who is losing her resource of hope. This is why we are now often finding our beautiful 12 year old girl walking the streets.
She is one of our girls, and she is fighting for her life. This is her story, and we are here for her. For the girls who are mouthy, sassy, loud, abrasive and what you would consider rude…. we often know their stories and their hearts. We know what she’s having to endure to simply stay alive, to be given her next breath.
Her story isn’t over and neither is her hope. We are here to fight for her. To love her where she is. To offer hope in the midst of so much suffering and pain – and bring essential items that she needs at her door step until we can hold her in our arms again.
This is our girl, and this is her story.