The Fall is a wonderful time at Covenant House. With Halloween, the Sleep Out, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all one after another, there’s a festive spirit in the air.
In the past week, it’s been a marathon of fun – and we couldn’t have done it without the hard work and generous donations from our staff and friends in the community! Read the post below to hear about all SIX of the events from this past week.
Last Wednesday, the Junior League of New Orleans threw our residents a Halloween themed birthday party for those who had birthdays in October. All were welcome to attend, and the birthday kids each got their own gifts!
Friday afternoon, Ween Dream came by, donated dozens of BEAUTIFUL costumes to us, and threw our little kids and their mothers a Halloween party! Our little kids were absolutely glowing with joy at being able to dress up in such cool costumes. Here are some of the photos that Ween Dream shared on their Facebook.
Halloween isn’t just for the little kids though — later that night, our staff members threw our residents a Halloween party of their own. Our staff decorated the Crisis Center head-to-toe in Halloween decor, set up a DJ, provided food, and let the festivities begin.
The next day, Kiwanis came and prepared a delicious BBQ for our residents. They’ve been coming for years, and we can’t thank them enough for giving our residents an amazing meal and an afternoon of fun. Just on the other side of our courtyard, the Women of Motivation were throwing our residents a day-time Halloween celebration. They brought a DJ, a Space Walk, donations, and more!
And finally, it was Halloween day! Just after the little kids in the Head Start center on-site woke up from nap time, they paraded throughout Covenant House, trick-or-treating at each office or cubicle throughout the building. A few hours later, the young moms of dads of Covenant House brought their children and did the same. All of the children were decked out in their amazing Ween Dream costumes. We are so blessed to have so many friends in the community who want to bring joy to our residents. Thank you to our staff and community partners, and of course, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
Tabitha came to Covenant House last April at age 20.
She had been living on her own since age 17. She did not get along well with her step-mother. She was still grieving over the death of her grandmother — and primary caregiver — when she was 11.
Tabitha was forced to move around a lot, adding to her adolescent trauma. Despite earning a high school diploma and completing a culinary arts program through Job Corps, Tabitha could no longer live or function independently — nor return home.
She needed trauma counseling and safe, supportive housing. Covenant House’s team could provide both.
The structure and resources our Crisis Center provides was exactly what Tabitha needed. She adjusted quickly once she moved into her room, and soon began to stabilize her life. She now works in the hospitality industry and is saving her money with the goal of advancing to our transitional housing program, Rights of Passage.
Tabitha regularly attends her counseling sessions and has built a trusting relationship with our social worker. She now stops by to talk whenever she needs to. In addition to counseling, Tabitha is also training to be a massage therapist. We are helping her to heal and to achieve the goal of independent living.
Gordon came to us in the Fall of 2014.
Gordon and his mother had been homeless. They were living pillar to post. They had never gotten back on their feet after Katrina. He was ten years old when they were rescued from rising flood waters.
Due to her cancer, his mother was able to find a place to stay. Gordon, however, was not allowed to join her. He was suddenly on his own. He was homeless, yet again. Soon came the fear. How was he going to make it on his own? He had no job. No money. No roof over his head. He was scared, really scared. What kid wouldn’t be?
Ultimately came the anger. Life wasn’t fair. Why him?
Gordon hitchhiked to New Orleans. Then he made some very bad choices: petty crime and dealing drugs. He is a good kid. He was just in a “bad place” without any guidance or support. He was trying to survive.
Thankfully someone told Gordon about Covenant House. “It’s a place for runaway and homeless teenagers. They can help you turn your life around.”
Within six months, he was thriving. Our team had done a great job of providing plenty of supportive counseling, and slowly Gordon came into his own.
Gordon got a job working for White Dove Landscaping, our job readiness and training program, and he loved it. We cut lawns, clear lots, and landscape small residential and commercial properties. Approximately six to nine youth trainees are employed at a time. The first lesson our kids learn is to show up – on time – each day.
We teach our White Dove crew a host of life skills and business skills (“Wear a clean shirt every day.” “The customer is always right.” “Yes ma’am, yes sir.”). They learn about the equipment: how to operate and repair. They learn about the different kinds of grasses, plants and shrubs. They learn how to use technology: to take before and after pictures of their assigned lots, and to electronically match the pictures with the invoices.
Financial literacy is another educational element of the program. Each resident trainee is strongly encouraged to save 80% of their paycheck. They’ll need the funds for school or to obtain an apartment in the future.
Ultimately our youth learn to put the past behind them and to become responsible young adults.
Sounds so simple. Young men and women like Gordon, however, have had to overcome innumerable hurdles. Did they grow up in a physically and/or sexually abusive home? Where’s their father? Does their mother deal drugs, or suffer from mental illness? Were they ever in foster care? Were they ever trafficked? Had they run away from home – or been thrown out?
How did they survive on the street for weeks and months before knocking on our door for help?
Gordon was an A+ landscape trainee. He enjoys working – and working long hours.
“What about the summertime and the heat?” I asked.
“Doesn’t bother me. I like working outside. Someday, I want to start my own landscaping business. I am going to call it Black Dove.”
As I started laughing, a big sheepish grin came across Gordon’s face. “You like the name?” Gordon
“So White Dove is going to have some competition in a couple years,” I said. We both chuckled.
Gordon hasn’t started his own landscaping business yet – but he’s on his way. Today, Gordon is working hard at another landscaping company and working evenings at a second job to save up money. He has reunited with family and now lives with his aunt. We are so proud of him and and can’t wait to see where his hard work takes him!
Matthew came to Covenant House at the age of 17 after being pushed out of a highly dysfunctional home. On his own for the first time, he was determined to change his life for the better.
If you met Matthew, you’d be impressed by his intelligence and creativity. After a few months of working and saving, he advanced to our Rights of Passage (ROP) transitional living program, where our staff connected him with our partners at Youth Empowerment Project (GED classes) and Liberty’s Kitchen (a culinary training program).
Matthew flourished in ROP, gaining confidence with each step he took toward his goal of independent living. By the time he graduated from Liberty’s Kitchen, he had built up considerable savings.
Since graduating from ROP this spring, Matthew has moved into his very own apartment. In addition to his full-time job at Cake Café, he also works as a freelance artist and editor and has drawn several comics that are available for sale on Amazon. He has even published a small graphic novel on CreateSpace and is currently working on a self-published comic series, while staying focused on earning his GED. We’re so proud of Matthew’s accomplishments – and confident in his bright future!
Our 6th annual SLEEP OUT on Thursday, November 16th will once again be a very special evening.
Last year, over 160 sleepers raised $450,000 to support our runaway, homeless, and at-risk young people. Our goal for 2017 is to recruit 170 sleepers (one for every youth & child in our care) and raise $470,000. We can’t do it without you.
In the past six years, the number of young people in our daily care has grown from 45 to 170 per night. They are among the most damaged and vulnerable youth in our community. Most are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse, domestic and/or street violence, and the resulting profound trauma that often leads to substance abuse, mental health issues, and more. The Sleep Out is our opportunity to let them know they are not alone: that we stand with them in their struggles, celebrate their courage and resiliency, and support their promise and dreams.
Welcome to our brand new website – www.covenanthouseNOLA.org! The new site will feature regular blog posts like this one to keep our supporters updated on the latest happenings at “the Cov.”
Suggestions for new content? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In October of 2010, Irma came to Covenant House.
Her mother had died, and when her father remarried, his new wife didn’t want Irma around. Irma moved in with her aunt, but was soon cast out again.
Irma was a junior at Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward. She loved school and the community there, and she was afraid of losing the only source of support she had left.
Thankfully, a school social worker knew of Covenant House, and brought a homeless and despondent Irma in.
“I had never heard of Covenant House, never knew what it was, never thought I’d have to go there,” she said.
Over the course of her 18-month stay, Irma blossomed into a confident and determined young woman.
“I liked the extra push they gave me,” she said. “I needed that extra push.”
Irma was elected homecoming queen in her junior year, and graduated third in her class (the first graduating class at her school since Katrina). While in high school, she worked at McDonald’s 30 hours a week, and in the summer of 2012, she interned at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
Now Irma works full time at Costco and serves on the Covenant House Board of Directors. We are so proud of Irma and all she has accomplished, and are blessed to have such an inspirational young woman helping to make Covenant House a home for any young person who needs us.
Aaliyah’s story is sobering and tragic.
Her family, the foster care and child welfare systems, and the legal and criminal justice systems all failed this beautiful young woman. Despite everything Aaliyah has been through these past twelve years, she is not bitter. Instead, she’s focused on turning her life around.
Aaliyah’s suffering began at the age of 9. Her mom developed a drug problem and began dating a man who raped her.
“I didn’t tell anyone because he threatened to leave and take away our only income.”
Child Protective Services removed Aaliyah from her mother, whose cocaine use had spun out of control, leading to deplorable living conditions. Aaliyah rebelled in foster care under the authority of people she felt only wanted the government check. Running away from foster care, Aaliyah was left to fend for herself on the streets.
“The first time I actually took money for sex was when I was 16. He had been raping me for years… why not take the $200?”
Aaliyah left for Texas at 19 and found work as a stripper. A fellow dancer told her about a Houston club where she could earn more money. The man in charge turned out to be a pimp (all too common in the world of strip clubs). He brought her to New Orleans where she was required to earn $500 a night during the week and $1,000 for weekend nights.
“If I failed to earn his money, he would beat me with a belt or stripper pole.”
Aaliyah arranged her “dates” on Backpage, an online ad service for adult postings. Also working the site was an FBI agent who agreed to exchange money for sex with Aaliyah. The agent was part of a sting operation, and Aaliyah was immediately arrested.
“I was 17 when I found out I was HIV positive.”
Being HIV positive is a by-product of the life Aaliyah was forced to lead. On the night of her arrest, Aaliyah had a full box of condoms on her – but her belongings were never searched before she was arrested. Charged with “attempted exposure to the HIV virus,” she was forced to register as a sex offender for the next 15 years – or go to jail.
“I prayed a lot.”
As a young girl, Aaliyah’s grandmother taught her to pray every day, and she has continued to do so through the years. “There could be a man on top of me, and I would still pray. Because you never knew if he would snap, or choke me out, or try and rob me, or kill me.”
With the help of Covenant House, the sex offender charge against Aaliyah has been dropped. (Imagine trying to apply for a job or find a decent apartment with the words “sex offender” stamped in scarlet letters on your license?)
She is now getting her life back on track and receiving ongoing counseling. She has a new job and is considering going back to school. Aaliyah knows the “road back” will have many challenges, but she has hope… and faith.
Covenant House NOLA
CHNOLA is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Much more than “just a shelter,” we provide supportive counseling and the tools needed to help our youth become independent, productive members of our community.