‘My Gift is My Story’ — This is Alysha’s Story

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Since our inception, Project Legacy has been focused on creating deep, authentic and trusting relationships with our youth. When we do this, young people spread the word, and most of our referrals come from word of mouth. Peers tell one another the hope and support they’ve found through Project Legacy, encouraging one another to consider the opportunity for themselves.

This was how Alysha found her way to Project Legacy.

Alysha frequently recounts the day she was released from Generose, the psychiatric unit at Mayo Clinic, after a suicide attempt.  She speaks publicly about this period in her life when she had no one to turn to and nowhere to go. It was on that day, and the day she read a note from Zach that urged others to reach out to Project Legacy if they were looking for a way out of a bad situation and had a desire for something better.

She tells me now she thought, “Why not? I have nothing now – what do I have to lose?”  So she sent this simple Facebook message to Project Legacy that said, “Hi Karen, I am currently attending RCTC. Is it too late to be a part of your program?”

It’s now four years later, and Alysha is a junior in college studying social work. Her daughter, who was diagnosed with failure to thrive just before Alysha joined Project Legacy, is now a kindergartner testing at mid-first grade level. Project Legacy helped Alysha secure quality childcare, preschool and enrichment opportunities — but Alysha did the rest.

Today, Alysha is a peer mentor who works with other young mothers and teens who have experienced homelessness, addiction and child abuse. She’s a role model to youth in our program and our community and is an inspiration to those who meet her and hear her story.

This is her story, in her own words:

“In December of 1994, I was given the greatest gift — the gift of life. Life is beautiful, a blessing, and something to be thankful for every single day. I like to think that we all enter this world as seeds waiting to be planted. We are all seeds, but we have absolutely no control over what kind of soil we’re planted in. The seeds planted in toxic soil tend to struggle to grow and the seeds planted in soil rich in nutrients flourish. And that’s the funny thing about life…we’re not all born on equal playing fields.

I was born in one of the worst parts of California. My parents were separated and struggling with their own addictions. Growing up, I learned how to be self-sufficient and took on a lot of adult responsibilities. At the age of 11, I was already a parent to my younger siblings. I would get my younger siblings up in the morning, make them breakfast, take them to school, then pick them up. I got my first job when I was 15 to buy basic necessities like toothpaste, deodorant, and food. Every winter I would make sure that I bought a space heater because I lived in a home without heat. My two meals a day were at school, and I feared my dad so much that I would call my teachers to pick me up if I missed the bus.

My parents left the state during my senior year. I was pregnant, in high school, and I was homeless at the age of 17. By the age of 19, I felt that my life was a never-ending series of unfortunate events and circumstances.

I was given the gift of life in Oakland, California in December of 1994. But in December of 2013 here in Rochester, Minnesota, I decided I didn’t want it anymore. I reached my lowest point the day that I attempted suicide. I couldn’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel that had kept me going for so long.

I’m not sharing the most private parts of my life with you for sympathy, pity, or to make you feel sorry for me. I’m sharing so you can get a glimpse of the reality so many young people like me face every single day. I am sharing my story so that other kids and young adults that have lived through abuse, neglect, racism, violence, and mental health issues know that they are not alone. The issues seen in cities like Chicago and LA are happening right here in our own community on a smaller scale.

There’s a quote I really enjoy by Pablo Picasso that says “The meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.” My gift is is my story, and I’m here to share that with you today.  Something that every single person has in common is a need for hope. Project Legacy is not a program that saves people, it’s a program that gives people hope to keep going despite their circumstances. Project Legacy does not give you the light to light the way, it gives you the tools and opportunities you so desperately need to create your own light when you feel stuck in your darkest tunnels.

I’ve been in Project Legacy for a little over four years. In those 4 years so much progress has been made. I’m one course away from being the very first person in my family to get a college degree. My daughter will be attending Kindergarten this fall and she’s testing at a first-grade level, and I now have a positive support system in place. All of these achievements were possible due to the support I received and continue to receive from Project Legacy.

Project Legacy not only provided financial assistance for me to go back to college and pursue my degree, but they also made sure that my daughter had quality day care, so she could learn and grow as well. I’ve met so many amazing people that have shown me how to build and maintain healthy relationships. Project Legacy does so much for the youth and young adults in our community that are too often forgotten or deliberately turned down because of their past. As long as you are ready to make positive changes, Project Legacy has a place for you and that is what makes this program so beautiful. I’ve received financial help, dental work, assistance through Operation Nourish, care packages through Operation Encourage, and so much more.

I will forever be grateful for all of the help I have received and it means the world to me. But the best thing that I have experienced since joining Project Legacy is compassion and kindness. When you grow up in a home with parents that don’t even do the bare minimum for you, and then have complete strangers going out of their way just to see how your day was...that does so much. I don’t think people really understand. My parents weren’t at my high school graduation, didn’t go to school conferences, and told me my mental illnesses were “all in my head.” Now, I have Project Legacy volunteers checking in on me often. It makes me feel cared about and like my existence does matter to someone out there.

My family and many people I have encountered validated all of the worse things I think about myself that weren’t true. So over time, I began to believe and become all of those things. To have Project Legacy volunteers say I’m amazing, I’m smart, and I’m loved all the time, helps create those small psychological changes in me every single day. Project Legacy has helped me when I needed it most, and now I am in a position where I can reach behind me and help other young men and women that need it too, with compassion, understanding, and love.”

Karen Edmonds