From invisible to role model: Turning homelessness experience into inspiration

The first time, homelessness was thrust on me. The second time, I became homeless by choice with a dream to inspire youth not to give up on life, their dreams and understand the value of a higher education. I tell them about what I’ve learned over the years—that mentors, education and a dream of a better tomorrow are pathways to success. Yet those lessons didn’t come easily.

For a while, my brother, sisters and I grew up in a household where my father was violent toward my mother. To keep outsiders from finding out about the troubles in our home, we were taught, “What happens at home, stays at home.” And in this type of situation as a child you lose your voice. Unfortunately, when my mom gained the courage to stop the cycle of domestic violence and leave, my family was forced into hiding.

I was 14 years old when I first became one of hundreds of homeless youth living in the streets of San Antonio, Texas. I kept under the radar to keep people from knowing I was different. But I was. While most kids were playing outside, I fluctuated between being a street kid and a couch surfer, constantly looking for food and shelter for my 2-year-old brother, Ray, and 9-year-old sister, Danielle. I found homes for them while I stayed on the streets or with whomever took me in for a few months. I quickly learned to be invisible to keep from disrupting those families’ lives. I became their maid, babysitter, gardener or cook. The moment I became a burden, I had to leave. I had not only lost my own family, but I lost myself and my dreams in the process.

When I was 16, I walked into the Omni Hotel in Dallas to find a free meal and came across an event for the Federally Employed Women’s Training Program. I found myself in the awards dinner and sat in the back while motivational speaker Lt. Col. Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, addressed the audience. Her words gave me the hope and strength I needed to dream again. They inspired me to keep trying.