When 16-year old Cassandra* found out she was pregnant with her daughter Kayla* she wasn’t sure what to expect.
At the time, she was living in a cramped home with her mother and five younger siblings, where the floor of her sister’s room served as her bed.
After living a year like this after Kayla’s birth, Cassandra needed change. Knowing this was no place to continuing raising her daughter and in an attempt to take responsibility for her situation, Cassandra found a small, inexpensive apartment she and little Kayla could call home. Though “home” quickly spiraled into one problem after another with a back door incapable of locking, painted-shut windows and a lead-positive furnace.
“I had to go,” Cassandra said.
With three-year old Kayla’s safety in mind and bills stacking up, Cassandra was faced with a choice. They could either move back into her mother’s crowded home or seek shelter elsewhere. Cassandra knew if she moved back in with her mother, she would once again be expected to help look after her brothers and sisters. This would make it next to impossible for her to focus on school and work, not to mention raising Kayla.
Cassandra made up her mind; she wasn’t going back. After scouring numerous places for teen mothers, she discovered United Way supported Almost Home. Wary of the idea of going to a shelter, she attended a tour and interview.
What attracted Cassandra to Almost Home was the organization of the program. At Almost Home, each girl has her own room, giving mother and child their own space. They provide Mommy and Me Time—a time set aside daily for mom to read aloud to her child. Life skill classes are also offered every day, where the girls learn about everything from budgeting and self-expression to cooking and sewing. By the end of her visit, Cassandra knew it was where she and Kayla belonged.
Two weeks later, she received the news—they had a room available. On May 16, 2011, Cassandra picked up her things, left her dilapidated apartment and walked through the doors of Almost Home with Kayla to become residents.
“I remember that day. My daughter kept asking, ‘When are we going home?’ She didn’t understand why we were here. She didn’t understand why she didn’t have her own room, why we were sharing a bathroom or why dinner was at a certain time.”
The transition was difficult at first but five short months later, Cassandra was transferred to the Almost Home aftercare program where she and Kayla were able to move from dormitory-style living with several other girls, to apartment-style living on their own. In addition to raising now four-year old Kayla, she is working full-time as a clerk at a local library.
In May, Cassandra will leave her apartment to continue her final year of college, completing her Bachelor’s in Psychology. She plans to put her job on hold, devote the next year to her education and land a work study job.
“It’ll be tough but I have to finish school. Hopefully the things I’ve learned here will help carry me. It almost feels like cutting the umbilical cord of Almost Home because you get really dependent on this program. The real world is not nearly as nice as Almost Home. So you have to get out there eventually.”
Once she receives her Bachelor’s degree, Cassandra hopes to continue her schooling with a Master’s in Counseling. Her plan is to become a counselor and help people become the best they can be, much in the same way Almost Home and its staff have done for her.
Had it not been for United Way’s funding and support of Almost Home, Cassandra believes her life would have taken a very different course.
“I would probably be at home working at a fast food restaurant, trying to help my mom with stuff. I truly think that’s what would’ve happened had I moved back home. I would’ve picked up the load with her, and in turn, never gotten out and never finished school. I don’t think any of that stuff would’ve happened. I know it wouldn’t have happened.”
Thanks to United Way and Almost Home, Cassandra and Kayla are one step closer to being just that – home.
*names changed to protect identity.
About Almost Home
Launched in 1993, Almost Home inspires teenage mothers, ages 12-19, to create a better life for themselves and their children by providing care and housing that prepare them for the future. They have received United Way funding since 2008.