Two Inspirational Stories of Success and Overcoming Great Obstacles
Helping at-risk youth find their path in life
Eight years ago, Michael graduated from New Haven. Once an at-risk youth who faced great obstacles, he persevered and learned to overcome family dysfunction, homelessness and drug addiction. Now a source of inspiration, New Haven asked Michael to share his success story with the 2021 graduating class.
“I grew up in the outskirts of Los Angeles with a single mom, totally unaware that the chaos, disfunction and homelessness due to her battle with addiction, was not normal. In fact, as a child, I didn’t know she had a problem. I’ve seen some horrible things, have been bounced around from place to place, school to school, often with little to eat. Sometimes homeless, we would sleep in the shelter at night and spend time in Carl’s Jr during the day. It was exhausting… but it was all I knew.
I began experimenting with drugs at a young age while my mother continued to struggle with addiction. Her addiction led to more problems, more homelessness, in a continuous cycle, day after day.
At one point my mother was able to secure a home for us but soon ran into money problems. To avoid facing homelessness again, I found a way to help financially by doing the only thing I knew, selling drugs. I seriously had no idea what I was doing was wrong. And then the worst … or possibly the best… thing happened: we got caught attempting to smuggle drugs across the border.
That day changed my life forever. I didn’t have family to turn to and my mom was going to prison. I was placed in foster care and referred to New Haven. While there I was able to get clean and I started going back to school. New Haven changed my life, but it was a bumpy road.
I’ll never forget Chris coming to give me information on the program, what they had to offer, and I basically told him to take a hike. He came back again and gently told me that this was probably my best option and my social worker chimed in with the same message. A week later they picked me up to head to New Haven.
I immediately started working the program and dedicated myself to school. Well, actually I had no choice since they took me in a van to school every day! When I got to know the staff, teachers, and counselors I realized they genuinely wanted to help me grow and better myself. I liked the program so much that even after I turned 18 and could move on, I stayed and graduated from high school.
The next chapters of my life were humbling to say the least, starting from scratch and learning to be a student of life. I learned the value of mistakes and made LOTS of them! But I worked hard to learn from them and find ways to not repeat them. I realized that these mistakes could serve as an important key to my success… as long as I learned to avoid repeating them.
Have I figured it all out? Nope. But if it wasn’t for New Haven and their supportive staff, I would be dead or in jail. Clearly, I’m neither of those. I am proud to say I have an amazing job that I love and two beautiful kids. And New Haven played an essential role in setting the stage for the man I am today.”
“Have I figured it all out? Nope. But if it wasn’t for New Haven and their supportive staff, I would be dead or in jail. Clearly, I’m neither of those. I am proud to say I have an amazing job that I love and two beautiful kids. And New Haven played an essential role in setting the stage for the man I am today.”
Be someone’s bridge for change
From living on the street, hanging out with the wrong crowd to getting in trouble every day, David faced challenges in his youth that would be unimaginable for most people. Through his journey at New Haven, he realized that wasn’t alone and that he could push forward in the face of adversity. David shared his motivational success story with 2021 graduating class at New Haven.
“It feels like a lifetime since I left New Haven. I sat where you are sitting now with a huge smile on my face. After having gone through so many difficulties, being awkward and getting in trouble every day because I couldn’t find where I fit in, hanging out with the wrong people, I was now on a mission. A mission to make sure no other child or human being has to experience the hardships I endured.
As a teenager, I experienced homelessness and the dangers which accompany a teenage boy living on the street. I was in and out of the juvenile justice system, all the while dealing with multiple learning difficulties. Most times I was alone in my journey. Even after coming to New Haven, I struggled behaviorally, emotionally, and academically and was a very troubled teenager. New Haven taught me the value of pushing forward in the face of adversity.
I learned so much and was able to make so many great memories at New Haven. The highlight of my time here was being a part of the Culinary Arts Program. From the batches of Almond Roca Dru made every Christmas to the amazing outings to Cirque de Solei and barbeques at a donors’ homes with the best lemon bars I’ve ever tasted. Meeting legends like Louis Zamperini, Dr. Ben Carson, and who can forget Ms. Chamberlin, the WORLD’S best baker. I had to work hard and be on my best behavior to attend these events and still regret the ones I missed because I wasn’t on my best behavior. Those could have been connections and memories of a lifetime.
Having educators, therapists, and support staff who believed in me like Dru, Mr. Haskins, Chris, and so many more, was all that it took for me to believe in myself. Thanks to New Haven and the people here, I was able to graduate High School and get accepted to multiple colleges and universities, eventually choosing to attend Savannah State University where I earned a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration. I never imagined in a thousand years that I would be able to graduate from High School, let alone go on to college and earn not one but two degrees.
Why go to more school? Why more degrees?
I wanted to be a voice for change and advocacy for people like you and me. Earning more degrees allowed me to learn more and have the platform to advocate for the changes I want to see in the world, to help ensure others wouldn’t have to go through what I had to endure.
For a lot of you here, staff, parents, or someone else may have told you something that you don’t think means anything or that you couldn’t make sense of at the time. But I tell you from experience, there were seeds planted. They may not have taken root yet but when you’re ready, they will.
All of this is to say, it’s up to you to decide what path your future will take. Never give up, even when things seem tough. Always do the right thing even when nobody’s watching. Believe in Yourself. Pay it Forward.
It’s time to go out into the world and become whatever people told you that you couldn’t or wouldn’t become. I want you to out and do great things! It’s your time. Congratulations!”’