Strange, this. Writing about my life, as a poet, has often come easily to me. Telling you why I should be awarded financial aid has been a struggle. Assuredly there were hardships, extenuating circumstances, and to a point, my own poor decisions. I was a street kid for around six years. There was a period wherein I attended school for a semester and I was homeless in the interim. While in school in 2002, I lived with each of my parents, respectively.
I moved to Austin in 2003 with dreams of surviving on my own. Thankfully, as a spoken word artist, I was welcomed with giant, warm, open arms by the community of poets, musicians, and dreamers that dotted the Austin landscape at the time. During this period, 2003-2007, I hitchhiked around the country, my home base always Austin. It was then that I came to be involved with Lifeworks Austin. An incredible program for at-risk youth, I joined up with their street outreach program. It was a safe space in the basement of a church at the back corner of the Renaissance market place on the Drag (the main stretch separating UT Austin from the West Campus area that houses students.) They offered services such as laundry facilities, case management, counselors, and a weekly health clinic. I was often told that I “didn’t belong” on the streets, asked by many a social worker why I was there.
I was ill-prepared for life as a homeless youth. I grew up solidly lower-middle class, with a single mother, living in the project housing neighborhood that was served by Richardson schools while technically living in North Dallas. There were periods of struggle growing up, my mother made many sacrifices to ensure that I never knew just how paycheck to paycheck we were living. I was diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder at the age of 12, a hardship I wouldn’t fully grasp until I was much older and trying to navigate the world without medication. I always performed well in school, especially following the diagnosis and medication, though that was mismanaged spectacularly. Of course, within the mental health field in the 90’s not nearly enough was yet known about adolescents and mental illness.
Within the Lifeworks program, in 2004, I was moved into Transitional Living Services. It was a shelter for at-risk youth, comprised mostly of kids who were aging or had aged out of foster care, sprinkled with the occasional street kid, of which I was one. At the time, I was the oldest person living at the shelter, 21 and old enough to buy alcohol and older than most of the clients by a couple of years. TLS was a wonderful place, we all had our own rooms, with locks on the doors, and to live there you had to be in school full time, working full time, or doing both part time. They helped me get into and begin classes at Austin Community College and I was working full time as a waitress at the Black Eyed Pea.
I did well during the time that I lived at TLS, my counselor through the Street Outreach program, Will Hancock, had helped me get into MHMR and get back on medication for a while. I am singular amongst the friends I made while living on the street in that I didn’t suffer from alcohol or substance abuse problems. I just couldn’t seem to keep myself employed. While at TLS, I had to leave in the middle of the semester at ACC because I was too old, and I believe they felt I was too much of a risk, being old enough to buy alcohol and doing so when I went out with friends from time to time, though never for someone who was underage.
When I moved out of TLS, I went back to the streets. I had lined up a roommate situation, but it wouldn’t be ready for me for another 2 months, so I was in limbo, sleeping on couches, under bridges, on roof tops. I managed to maintain my job during this period, though I couldn’t keep going to school, so I had to drop my classes.
There are many intervening years between then and now, many many changes that have lifted me up and made me stronger, better able to become successful. I went to a vocational “school” in 2008-2009, Southern Careers Institute. I got accepted and financial aid all on my own, and so my mother was willing to help me with paying for things like rent and bills as all of the financial aid went to the “school.” This place was a diploma factory, I unfortunately discovered, a for profit institution where I did receive a certification for Administrative Assistance, but no one ever took it seriously. $6,000 in student loan debt later, I was still essentially unemployable.
In 2009, I met my now-husband. A graduate of the University of Texas with a degree in linguistics, we hit it off immediately. We had our own share of struggles, moving into our first apartment, working temp jobs as they came available. We worked hard, we struggled, we succeeded. We got engaged on New Year’s Eve in 2011, with no money, no real prospects, struggling like so many others of our generation. In February of 2012 he got a job working as a systems administrator here in Austin and we were on our way to becoming stable. We wed in October of 2012 and I began working at my current job that same month. I was hired on to a small local company, working as a Customer Service Representative in their call center. Within 6 months I was promoted to a shift lead position, where I have hit the proverbial glass ceiling.
It should be noted that, also in October of 2012, I lost a very dear friend quite suddenly to cancer. I was with her in the hospice room when she passed away and it was truly a life changing event. When I again attempted to get off of the streets in 2007, I moved in with Lisa and her husband Mike, to be a nanny for their 5 year old Jesse. They welcomed me into their family as though I was one of their own, indeed Lisa had a child one year younger than I was. I was successful this time. I have been in a home since I moved in with the James family. Losing Lisa so suddenly was a turning point. I sought grief counseling through a clinic that provided sliding scale rates and from there was referred to a psychiatrist where I began treatment for Bi Polar Disorder.
I attempted to go back to school in January of 2013 at Austin Community College, but was denied financial aid for the same reason I have been denied here. At the time, as now, I cannot afford to go to school without federal aid. I found out in 2012 that my loans had defaulted, so I began a repayment program. I stopped with the payments when I found I couldn’t go back to school and picked them back up again in October of 2015. I have successfully paid my loans down from over $6000 to around $1700 and I make a payment every month.
I want this so badly. My end goal is to become a social worker and work with at risk youth. I have worked hard to be successful, and I have achieved a level of stability that I have not had in quite some time. I look forward to being a worthy addition to your institution.