From Homeless to Hopeful – Maria’s Story
As an 18 year-old living in the metro Atlanta area, Maria was, just like most teenagers, splitting her time attending high school and holding a part-time job. Unlike most teenagers, however, Maria was chasing these goals with little help from family. In fact, as a high school student heading toward graduation, Maria was homeless and responsible for supporting herself.
Despite her circumstances, Maria always made school a priority. She would often wake up as early as 4 a.m. to make sure that she found a way to class on time, in order not to fall behind her classmates.
Despite her best efforts, Maria still missed enough school for the state to be concerned about her ability to finish high school on time. This was her situation when we first met her in May 2019, as she began our Transitional Living Program (TLP), with graduation just three weeks away.
Maria didn’t let her circumstance become an excuse. She was determined to graduate on time, and with perseverance and hard work, Maria finished strong and graduated high school this past spring with no lost time.
Immediately, Maria set her sights on college and worked with a Wellroot Education Coordinator to complete her college applications.
“A lot of young adults come into the program and choose not to go to college, but Maria’s determination, strength and resilience make her special,” said Chantal Hill, Maria’s Wellroot Life Coach. “Many people in her position would have given up, but amidst the uncertainty of all of this, Maria maintained her job and continued to go to school. ”
While navigating the college application process, Maria was settling into the TLP’s apartment style housing, where she is now able to gain independence by learning real-world skills in a setting that offers around-the-clock guidance through the support of a “house parent.”
Like many of our TLP participants, Maria was so accustomed to living in “survival mode” that she missed out on learning life skills that many people often take for granted—preparing a decent meal, washing clothes, cleaning an apartment, paying bills, making a doctor’s appointment, creating a resume or shopping for an interview outfit. The program offers the kind of support that many young adults in the foster care system are living without, because a Wellroot team member is always there to answer questions and provide guidance, whether it’s in reference to a job application or making dinner.
“I’m learning how to be more independent and getting ready for the real world,” Maria said about her experience so far in TLP.
As an 18 year-old entering adulthood, Maria is also encouraged to budget and save. Our staff members work one-on-one with youth to outline a savings plan, build up their personal credit and pay off any debts. After 3-6 months in the program, participants even begin to gradually pay for their own rent and utilities. Because of the generous support from our donors, Wellroot is able to take any money paid toward rent and backfill it into the participants’ savings accounts. They receive this sum upon completion of the program, which makes it possible for a “graduated” participant to secure their own housing when they enter into the community.
In particular, Maria is working toward a specific savings goal to purchase her own vehicle. Because of her dedication to her job and to remaining in our TLP program, she’s close to making this a reality!
If you were to ask Maria how she found the inspiration to rise above her difficult situation and into success in our TLP program, her answer is simple: “I had a good support system.”
“They knew the struggles I’d been through,” Maria recalls about her first interactions with her Life Coach and other support team members. “Everyone was so happy and proud that I was there.”
Over the summer, Maria’s dedication, drive and perseverance was vividly illustrated once again, as she was accepted to Georgia State University, where she began attending classes at the Clarkston campus in August. For now, her major is health science, but she’s open to learning and taking it day-by-day to find her true passions.
Her ultimate goal? “I want to be happy with what I’m doing,” Maria said.
Along with our Wellroot team, Maria has really always had additional support on her side. ”I feel like I wouldn’t be here without faith,” Maria said. “I’ve always prayed since I was young, and because of that, I’ve never really had to worry about anything.” When asked about the biggest advice she’s give to someone on a journey similar to hers, Maria said, “You’ve got to pray.”
In August, Maria had a chance to share her story with other youth in similar circumstances at the annual Independent Living Conference in Orlando, Florida. Because of the success and drive she exhibited during her first few months in Wellroot’s TLP program, we were honored to send Maria as a representative to this gathering that provides a safe, supportive space for young adults who have been in the foster care system.
Today, Maria is thriving at Georgia State, in our TLP program and at her part-time job. She’s an inspiration to her two younger siblings, who now see that big things are possible with hard work, perseverance and the right support system.
For the approximately 20 participants currently enrolled in our Transitional Living Program, the future holds more possibility than ever before. By owning their independence and learning responsibility, these dedicated individuals have altered the course of their lives for the better. And we’re thankful to be a part.
“It’s our mission through this program to build a bridge of support that these young adults can continue to cross and come back if we can help them in any way,” said Director of Programs Shalondra Young. “Above all, we want to see them succeed and grow into the full potential that we know they have.”