Finding Family

Imagine spending the first 12 years of your life surrounded by drugs, alcohol and crime.

It’s what you come home to every day after school. You call it home, but it doesn’t feel like home. Your family ignores you. They neglect you. They abuse you.

You meet a boy who listens and understands. He makes you feel loved and special – something your family has never done. You’re 13. A time when you should be preparing for high school, you discover you’re pregnant. Your mother abandons you, says you’re an embarrassment to the family and doesn’t look back.

Where would you turn? Who would you trust? Would you be able to find the strength to persevere and build a future for yourself and your child?

That’s the beginning of Christy’s story 29 years ago. It’s also when United Way-supported Epworth Children & Family Services became a part of Christy’s life.

She came to Epworth’s Youth Emergency Services shelter scared, untrusting and doubtful. But like a family, Epworth wrapped their arms around her. They told her things a supportive family would say. They reassured her everything would be OK, that she and her baby were safe. For the first time in her life, she felt loved, safe and secure.

“It could’ve gone wrong in so many ways,” Christy said, “but they gave me hope that I could make it through.”

Epworth quickly became the family she never had. They cared about her future and her child’s. They provided her with her own bedroom, clothes, food and access to prenatal care. They taught her sewing to focus her mind. They helped her to grow into her new role and fostered her sense of independence. Over time, her personal strength grew; she rebuilt her trust in others and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Terrence.

Christy was emancipated at 14 and went on to marry her son’s father. Together, they moved to Alabama where they had two more sons. Christy spent the next two decades being the source of strength for her family – raising her boys, supporting her husband’s career and working through nursing school.

Years later, divorce brought Christy back home to St. Louis. She worked several jobs, supported each of her three sons through college and turned to sewing – the skill she learned at Epworth – to relax in the evenings.

Time passed and Christy thought back to her days at the Epworth shelter 22 years ago.

“It never left my mind,” she said. “It was a support system I didn’t realize I had until I was older.”

She wondered if it was still how she remembered it. She had many memories of the shelter – walking to the neighborhood convenience store, relaxing in the backyard, and the brightly-colored room in which she slept. Christy knew if she took a tour, she wouldn’t want to do it alone. She wanted Terrence to be there with her, to see the place she called home when she was pregnant with him.

Seeing everything again brought back memories, good and bad.

The two left wanting to give back.

After learning more about his mom’s experience when she was a teen, Terrence decided to volunteer at the shelter.

Christy reconnected with the place that gave her hope by becoming a mentor to the shelter’s residents. She donated clothes to the young girls and spoke to them about her journey and the hope Epworth instilled in her. She went on to speak more publicly, attending company events on behalf of Epworth and United Way. She’s shared her story with thousands and keeps her eyes open to do more whenever and wherever she can.

Now 42, Christy lives in South Carolina and spends her days doing what she loves – sewing items to sell in her shop. She’s partnered with a few local retirement homes in her community and offers alteration services to residents.

Still fairly new to the area, she plans to get involved with her local United Way and continues to foster her connection with Epworth back home.

About Epworth Children & Family Services

Epworth Children & Family Services provides the St. Louis community with essential youth development services that have helped thousands of children overcome severe emotional and behavioral challenges caused by abuse or neglect. Epworth’s innovative, holistic and comprehensive treatment approach helps youth focus on solutions, build on inherent strengths and communicate more effectively. They strive to help youth and families find strengths, break through obstacles, and build brighter futures. Epworth Children and Family Services has been a United Way-funded agency since 1923.