It’s taken me awhile to get to the point where I feel stabilized enough to look forward to the future outside of Covenant House…but I’m getting there.
I’d like to tell you about a young lady, Cory, whom I met at our Covenant House’s Camden site last year.
Cory grew up in Riverside, Burlington County, NJ with both parents and an older brother. Her parents fought all the time. Not only did they fight verbally but her father was physically abusive to her mom… it used to get so scary that Cory and her brother would hide in their bedrooms, terrified of the thumps and screams they heard.
Her parents divorced and Cory’s mom moved them into a one bedroom apartment for several years. To keep food on the table, her mom worked all the time and left Cory and her brother with a male babysitter. He would make the kids stay outside so he could watch TV and if he got angry at them, he would hit them. Finally, her mom found herself in a stable relationship with a new man that enabled them to move into a 3 bedroom house.
Unfortunately for Cory, her mom had 2 more children with her stepfather, and seemed to grow increasingly disinterested with Cory, paying more attention to the new babies in the house than her daughter. Cory began to act out which resulted in her being passed back and forth between her mom and her dad, sometimes on a weekly basis. Feeling unwanted and unloved by her parents, in addition to being bullied at school, Cory became severely depressed. I’m sure some of you know what that must be like…She began to cut herself and swallow pills and had several hospital stays.
She did manage to graduate from high school and had plans to go the college, but the stress of going to classes while trying to work a job was too much for her and she quit both. She continued to house hop from friend to friend and from her mom’s to her dad’s until at one point, she had nowhere to go and ended up sleeping in a park.
I slept in the park’s playground under the jungle gym. It probably would have been ok if there had been dirt or sand but the playground material was tire chips. I tried to get comfortable but the chips would dig into my skin all night. There wasn’t anyone around which was pretty creepy cause I was completely by myself. I figured and hoped my family would come try to find me to see if I was okay and kept looking out for them…but they never came. That was really disappointing. I kept thinking, “Where I am gonna go? Where else can I stay?” and tried to think of people I could call that could help…I also kept thinking that I wasn’t in my comfy bed at home but lying on a pile of tire chips. The worst part about being there was the mosquitos–they were everywhere and kept biting me all night. I’d wake up swollen, itchy, and bleeding from where I scratched myself all night plus achy from sleeping on the tire chips. The hours dragged and I had no idea what time it was until I started to see cars and school buses the next morning. Then I was embarrassed that people passing were seeing me sitting under a jungle gym in some kid’s playground. I had to wait until the local library opened so I could use the bathroom, get a drink of water from the water fountain, and use their phone to try and find someplace else to stay. Thankfully, I found Covenant House in Camden.
When I first got there I was scared to death because I didn’t know what to expect and new things tended to scare me. As soon as I walked in Ms. Mandi asked me if I was hungry or wanted something to drink, which is so not what I expected but was nice. They also gave me a jacket and assured me they would find me a stable place to stay…which ended up being Covenant House in Atlantic City.
The idea of going to a homeless shelter really freaked me out. I had these thoughts in my head that it would be dirty and smelly and that I’d be sleeping on a cot in a room full of other people. Believe me, it’s like the Four Seasons compared to what I thought it would be! It’s so nice and I know the staff really cares about us. If I need someone to talk to at 2 am, there is someone there that’s willing to listen.
It’s taken me awhile to get to the point where I feel stabilized enough to look forward to the future outside of Covenant House…but I’m getting there. I attend a program 3 days a week that is helping me deal with my depression and anxiety and I have plans on working soon and getting my own place. I would also like to go to college to become a sign language interpreter. I do know that being at Covenant House is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. For me to be up here sharing my story in front of a crowd is a miracle in itself and if by sharing my story I’m able to help someone else or inspire them to help Covenant House keep serving kids, then it’s worth it.