I am sharing my journey with you tonight because it is so important to remember that there are thousands of young people all over New Jersey, who are homeless and are being trafficked. They need our help! They need love, grace, hope and… they need Covenant House.-Ashley
My name is Ashley and I am 24 years old and I am also a former resident of Covenant House New Jersey.
My journey to Covenant House started in Louisiana. My mom was 19 years old when she gave birth to me. My father left when I was 2 years old. My mother worked hard to take care of me, but it was challenging and she faced many obstacles. In an effort to make a better life, she left me with my Grandmother to look after me. I had 3 uncles who lived in the house, each of who abused me. It is a painful memory that haunts me to this day.
Eventually my mom found work in Connecticut. She would often leave me alone to go to work, at the early age of 5. My mom did the best she could, but between failed relationships and financial instability, I missed out on a lot.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, my family hit rock bottom. We were evicted from our apartment and my mom was only able to take care of my brother, so I was forced to fend for myself. While my friends were surfing the web, I was googling how to survive. I learned to build campfires and how to identify edible plants. This all came in handy when I was forced to make a makeshift house in the middle of the woods in Colts Neck. I was roaming the streets dirty and tired when a policeman stopped to ask where I was from. I said I was homeless and living in the woods. He brought me to social services, who told me about Covenant House. It sounded like a good place and I was willing to give it a try. Naturally I was afraid when they came to pick me up, but I was assured that Covenant House was a safe place that could help me get on my feet. When I arrived in Newark, I found out that that was true!
I got started right away with all the programs that were available at the Crisis Center. I participated in the job readiness program in the Vocational Center and I found a job at American Eagle Outfitters. After sharing my passion for cooking, the staff enrolled me in the Culinary Program at the Food Bank of Hillside. I was trained in all areas of food preparation. I graduated from the program and received my Food Handler’s certification.
One day when the New Jersey Devils were hosting a BBQ at the Newark shelter, I met some employees from the organization. They offered me an opportunity for employment and I have been working a full-time position at the Prudential Center for the past 4 years. I work in the VIP lounge kitchen preparing meals for team owners and executives. The job has changed my life. It made it possible for me to save enough money to move out of Covenant House. For several years, I have been living in my own apartment in East Orange. It is my home and I never take it for granted.
I will be forever grateful to Covenant House for being there when I needed them most. I am also grateful to the Devils Organization for giving me an opportunity that has enabled me to grow and become self-sufficient and independent.
I am sharing my journey with you tonight because it is so important to remember that there are thousands of young people all over New Jersey, who are homeless and are being trafficked. They need our help! They need love, grace, hope and… they need Covenant House.
Thanks to all of you for agreeing to sleep out tonight. Together… we will change lives!
Are you a youth in need of help?