“I Am Not My Circumstances:” Natasha’s Story
When Natasha’s on the track, nothing else matters but running.
She’s known ever since she was a little girl that she’s naturally fast. But her laser-sharp focus on her goals gives her an additional edge.
It’s that same drive that’s propelling her forward off the track. She may not have had an easy childhood, but she’s confident that as long as she keeps running, she can achieve whatever she sets out to do.
Nowhere to Go
Growing up, Natasha didn’t have control over much of anything in her life. As a child, she endured abuse and neglect, watched as her mother struggled with substance use and bounced between different homes and schools.
One night when Natasha was 12, her mother left the house where she was staying with her sister.
“It was a nightly thing; we knew where she was going,” Natasha recalled. “She would just be back in the morning before we woke up. But this time she didn’t come home.”
Natasha and her sister waited a few hours, and when their mom still didn’t return, they called the police. A few hours later, her mom was found shot in her car.
As Natasha struggled to cope with the trauma of losing her mother, she moved to Texas to live with her sister. When they had a disagreement, she was forced to move back to St. Louis to live with her father. At her father’s house, she was met with more abuse. It was the last straw.
She knew she had to get out, but she had nowhere to go. She confided in a counselor at school, who referred her to United Way supported nonprofit Youth In Need.
Within a couple of weeks, Natasha moved into a group home as part of Youth In Need’s Transitional Living Program, where teens experiencing homelessness learn independent living skills and work toward educational and employment goals. In the group home, Natasha had her basic needs met while she received life-skills training and counseling.
“They were doing stuff for me that I didn’t intentionally ask for, but that they knew I needed. It was just them loving me out of the kindness of their hearts – I didn’t have to do anything for it,” Natasha said. “The people around me really helped, telling me, ‘That’s not who you’re going to be.’”
Youth In Need not only gave Natasha a place to call home but also a vital support system as she finished her senior year of high school.
“They provided me a lot of stability, structure and comfort that I didn’t have in other places,” she said. “I didn’t know I needed that kind of comfort they provided until I got it. It made me feel secure, like I had a sense of purpose having structure.”
With support from her new family, Natasha stayed focused on her goal of attending college. She dove into her schoolwork and found a natural outlet on her school’s track team.
“I’ve always been fast and very active. When I’m running, nothing else matters,” she said. “It’s just me and the track. I can breathe.”
While she was at Youth In Need, Natasha stayed devoted to her health and fitness, and soon, a track scholarship made her dream of college possible. Natasha’s Youth In Need family was there to help her pack, move into her dorm room and navigate college life. They even helped her to purchase her first car – a gamechanger for Natasha.
“It’s a lot more freedom to get things done without having to wait on other people,” Natasha said. “It fuels my independence and provides me control over my life and everything that I do. Because for the majority of my life, everything was controlled for me.”
Today, Natasha is a junior at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, studying communications and youth ministry. Her goal is to build a career helping at-risk middle school kids, and she’s working hard to get there, including working multiple campus jobs, maintaining good grades and staying fit for track.
Even with her college career well underway, Natasha keeps in touch with her Youth In Need family and returns to Youth In Need during school breaks. She’s still working through the traumas of her childhood, but she’s confident nothing can slow her down.
“The phrase I use now is, ‘I’m not my circumstances,’” Natasha said. “Others that I see become statistics, and it gives me a lot of motivation to not be in that category. I’m a looking-forward type of person.”