“AHO’s total focus is to support you in achieving your personal and life goals.”
“AHO is providing the support and opportunities to help me get into a good place financially and mentally so I can accomplish my goals. With AHO as a foundation, I am building confidence and hope that I can achieve [my] goals and create the future I want for myself.”
In November 2015, I became homeless after my living situation with my ex-partner, who was physically and emotionally abusive, didn’t work out. I had to start all over and had no family support or resources to begin my life again. My name is Juliana, and I am 23 years old. I spent my days couch surfing, sneaking into the basement of my church and sleeping in the bushes outside near the Roland 101 freeway exit in Novato.
I first found out about AHO through my pastor at First Presbyterian church in San Anselmo. My church exhibited the AHO “Youth Homelessness to Hope” murals that AHO Youth Team spent a year to create. AHO youth reached out to 30 schools to participate in creating these murals that focused on the issues of social justice, environment, health and wellbeing and peace. When the murals were in our sanctuary, we had a reception where six AHO youth came and shared their stories. My pastor suggested that I go to the reception to see what AHO was about since I was homeless myself. That’s how it all began.
On March 30, 2016, I made the call to AHO for help and my life changed forever. AHO is giving me the opportunity to get to know young people my age who have similar stories and has provided me with personalized support for all my needs, along with leadership opportunities that homeless youth typically do not receive. AHO has helped me make an employment connection with Safeway, where I have been working now for over a year and a half. I have received several raises because of my work ethic and dependability, and was made store manager about six months ago.
AHO is offering the support and opportunities to help me get into a good place financially and mentally so I can accomplish my goals. Recently, AHO paid for my first and last month’s rental deposit so I could get into permanent housing. When I asked for someone to talk to, AHO connected me to a professional trauma specialist, one of AHO’s Alliance partners, who is helping me heal from my family and past which led to my homelessness. AHO has paid for my eyeglasses several times that were broken by my former partner. When I asked for help with my finances, AHO matched me with a knowledgeable and patient financial mentor that is helping me understand and manage the debt I am in, so I have a good foundation for the future. Through AHO, I got a cell phone too, actually two phones, because again, my ex-partner broke them. This support has helped me feel that somebody really cares, and is there for me, no matter what. It’s so reassuring that AHO has my back, when I’ve never had that feeling in my life before.
Now that I have stable housing, my goals for the future are to finish my Bachelor’s degree – I have 21 units yet to complete. Afterward, I want to pursue a job in the ministry working with middle and high school youth. AHO helped me get a laptop computer through one of AHO’s Alliance for Youth partners so I can manage my school and work hours without having the added stress of the limited computer time offered in the library. Bus transportation has always been a challenge and stress. Recently, another AHO Alliance partner, who owns a car repair shop, donated a car for me. This car was left at the shop and not claimed, and needs some repairs which they are taking care of. No longer will I have to take a bus three hours before an appointment, to get me there on time.
AHO is special for many reasons. When I first made the call for help (which was really hard to do, as youth typically do not want to have to ask for help) Zara, AHO’s Founder, met me right away within 24 hours at a café. It was comforting to get such a quick response to my call. Most places make you wait weeks or more for an appointment, and after many calls, you are left waiting even longer for someone to get back to you. AHO has a personal feel to it and is totally designed for young people. You cannot find an organization like AHO anywhere else. It’s youth-led, so it’s easier to trust and want to get involved because AHO’s total focus is to support one’s personal and life goals, rather than telling one what to do.
In a very short time after reaching out to AHO, Zara noticed my ability to speak and my interest in leading youth groups. Without hesitation, she offered me the opportunity to become a spokesperson for AHO. I was also given a leadership role on the AHO Youth Team that produced several Youth Connect. These events were created in one location to provide the key resources homeless youth need, to remove the barriers of transportation, and to provide support for completing applications. I’ve had so many opportunities to speak on behalf of AHO to share my story. These opportunities include the Marin Women’s Club luncheon, W. Bradley Electric luncheon, MCOE Advisory Board for Homeless and Foster Youth, KWMR radio and AHO’s Dine for a Cause at El Paseo in Mill Valley.
I was also one of the three youth on the AHO Youth planning team for the Town Hall Forum at Dominican University in September, 2017. This was the first-ever Town Hall Forum spearheaded by previously homeless youth. I was one of the youth on the planning team and panel who reached out to Senator Mike McGuire to ask him to host and participate as a panelist. It was a great experience to meet him and learn, that like me, he had no father growing up. Other important Forum collaborators with us included Mary Jane Burke, Superintendent of Marin County schools, COM, Tam Unified District and Dominican University. All these opportunities on the AHO Youth Team have given me a chance to develop my public speaking and leadership skills, which I would have never had without AHO. I am so grateful.
Today, with AHO as a foundation, I am continuing to build my confidence (my peers call me the butterfly), and I now know that I can achieve my personal life goals and create the future I want for myself. AHO was there for me and believed in me when I needed it most. On Sunday, May 28th 2017, I was ordained as a Deacon in my church! I am now responsible for providing the emotional and other support for 15 to 20 families. Life is good. I am so blessed to have found AHO which has changed my life forever.