JMN Foundation for Unaccompanied Youth  Blog

The Unaccompanied Youth Perspective 

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Homelessness

December 23, 2017

When you are a responsible young person or young adult without a parent, guardian or family member in sight, you are looked at like an alien. Like you weren’t born in this country. Like something has to be wrong with you that you’re parents or family aren’t involved with providing your basic needs. As a write this, I laugh because you would think people would assume something was wrong with your family first, before they assume something just has to be wrong with you. So just imagine being a homeless teenager. You’re automatically deemed disobedient, disrespectful, irresponsible, insubordinate, inconsiderate and a whole other host of labels I won’t bother mentioning instead of just being exactly what you are, homeless and asking for help. Think about how it may feel to be born into two sets of relatives and not one person be able to provide you with stable housing without the exposure to crime, drugs, sex or any of the other long term causes of trauma?

If you can’t imagine that, imagine my story. After a disagreement with my mother in which her boyfriend was present and they deemed I had an attitude, I was slammed to the floor with his knee in my neck, all while watching my mother stand with her arms crossed in the doorway. Before I knew it, my vision was blurry and all I can remember is I never wanted to see her or him, from that angle again. So when I got up, I got big, real big, in how I saw myself and how I wanted them to see me. I stood up and asked her, “You stood there and let him do that to me.” She didn’t respond, it was the same cold response she had when he did things to any of us and even her in the past. It was the same cold response she gave me at the front door when I turned around in the middle of street to see if she would at least curse me out and tell me to get back in the house. I spent that night in an area vacant building. Later turning into staying with my boyfriend and or anyone’s basement I could. This has nothing to do with me being irresponsible as I’ve worked since I was 15 years old, I’ve been an honor roll student my whole life, I’ve been responsible for my siblings everyday growing up, I played sports and belonged to ever leadership group or club in school you can think of. When I was 17 years old, I arrived at what used to be Ofallon Park Apartments with $2,000 of my own money and told them, “I need a place to stay, on my own and I don’t have parents but I will be 18 in 30 days and can not continue to stay where I am.” I signed my first lease, turned on my utilities and pulled my car into a parking spot right in front of my furnished apartment, full of food, clothes and shoes on 2/26/2008. Still think all unaccompanied youth are irresponsible?

I was told I could not get government assistance because I made $45 over the required maximum income when I was homeless. I was told I was not eligible for youth housing programs because I enrolled myself into college, was salaried by age 18, didn’t have a mental illness, other existing conditions, an addiction or children. It was at this point that I realized even in the world, I am homeless until I create a home. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I teach today’s youth. I teach them how to be alone and be ok with making their own way. I teach them what it means to get through being without for now and gaining so much more. I teach them what it means to have life, family and friends knock you down further than any stranger, yet with certain tools still be able to build a home for new family, friends and life. A home all their own, a home no one can take from them, a home they work hard to establish, hard to sustain, hard to protect. A home even if their alone in, it provides them more safety and security than any floor, any air mattress, any shelter bed, any corner of any intimate partners bed or any roof where love doesn’t exist.     

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places. 

December 23, 2017

Remember that our parents and our families are not active, present, let alone supportive parts of our lives. Therefore we try everything we can, to make up for it in other ways and relationships. Most of these ways and relationships don’t fit what most label “appropriate,” but it’s not what’s appropriate to us that matters, it’s about what’s safe, what’s secure, what’s immediate and what’s welcoming. In search for these very critical means of survival, we land ourselves on two journeys of life; (1) a journey of crime, sex, drugs and alcohol which is normally coupled with domestic violence, sex trafficking and gang activity (2) a journey of co-dependence on selective intimate relationships that provide what we’ve always desired as a family structure. Both ways allow us an escape mechanism for the abandonment and neglect we feel from our own families. 

For the majority of us, we realize the pain we are causing ourselves early on in our lives, for others of us, we don’t realize it at all. Some of us cross both journey’s on our search for love and it results in long term trauma for us, our children, our career’s, our lifestyle’s and anyone around us; ultimately resulting in life or death scenarios. Then, there are some of us that cross both journey’s and fight everyday to become okay with our past trauma, in order to become right for the love we deserve. As unaccompanied youth, we work everyday to fill voids, voids we were never responsible for filling in the first place. But upon early intervention, we learn that if we don’t take care of our love, our voids will become the death of what was destined to be the best experience known to mankind; love. True love, does not have a price to pay.

It wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I realized my coping skill for the abandonment and neglect I felt as a child was no longer acceptable for what I deemed as love. Although I didn’t drink, smoke, get pregnant or engage in criminal activity, I indulged in what I thought was right for me. He provided me with a floor to sleep on, which turned into a couch to sleep on, then a bed to sleep on, while I worked and finished high school. For that I exchanged my love and didn’t realize he didn’t love me until it was time for him to show it. It wasn’t until I went through a whole host of dating situations that I realized just what I wanted and needed to feel from the person I gave my love to again. But when I reached age 26, the person that was going to love me for the rest of my life not only provided me safety and security, but provided me friendship and family. I say this to say, even though we are unloved, unsupported and unprovided for, we are still capable of being loved. We have to be taught or learn to self teach the values of love in a different way. In a way that we will realize, accept and allow. In a way that we can feel that doesn’t invade on our independence, re-traumatize us or victimize us. In a way that acknowledges where we came from and accepts where we’re going.

I utilize my experiences and my knowledge to impact the lives of children just like me. I feel them when I’m in the same room as them. I connect with them when I hear their stories. So pardon me when I don’t get upset that a young girl has moved in with her boyfriend. Pardon me, when I don’t get upset that a young girl has left home for any particular reason. I don’t get upset because I know that she doesn’t feel love there as she would stay. I know that if she felt love there, she would come back. I know that where she feels love, she will go. Regardless to what you or I may feel, it’s about how that person feels. Giving us the tools to recognize components of healthy relationships is not enough but supporting through what we may think is love at any time is critical to our success. Unaccompanied youth have to work twice as hard in this area and who are we to tell them which way is “appropriate,” when someone brought them here without the very most essential part of living, which is love. 

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: What it Means to Be A 1st Generation Graduate.  

December 23, 2017

Walking down South Grand Blvd. to the Fox Theatre for high school graduation, is when I realized that I was definitely on my academic journey alone. Alone, on a journey that should be filled with people screaming your name, angling the camera for the perfect picture, hugging you afterwards and showering you with gifts. Or maybe it’s when I redirected my thoughts and realized that high school graduation wouldn’t be an option if I hadn’t worked 40 hours a week all year long, paid all my senior year expenses and maintained my 4.0 GPA. Or when I realized that a support team wasn’t something I needed for honor roll ceremonies, sports events, performances, pageants or any other accomplishments, so who was I not to encourage myself?

I mean for crying out loud I spent my last two years of high school in the basements, on the living room floors, hallways and couches of all these people, certainly nobody valued my academic accomplishments in spite of. Just imagine the days of wanting to give up, with no one to push you, no one to fight for, no one to fight with, the long nights, the hard studies, the social conflict and the constant debate of “to do or not to do”.

No wait, the best one, is the fight with the financial aid department that demands you provide your parents’ tax information to enroll semester after semester, regardless to the fact that you haven’t lived with the only alive parent that you have since you were 16. Having to relive the fact that you don’t have parents every time you go to that office just to enroll in school. Being told that you aren’t independent enough to enroll in school but you are independent when it’s time to file taxes, sign leases and other binding documents. Lastly, having to go to shelters and sleep to get a shelter verification in order to enroll as an independent student until age 25.

The same, very empty, very alone, very quiet, very silent, very cold feeling I had leading up to high school graduation, I had graduating from undergrad, grad and soon to be my doctoral program. So please, continue to look at me like a crazy woman when I scream to the top of my lungs when the kids in my program are successful in performing arts, successful in athletic programs, successful in academic programs, successful in community initiatives and successful in daily life because they deserve to get that warm and fuzzy feeling, all 1st Gens do.

“An estimated 50 percent of the college population is comprised of people whose parents never attended college according to a 2010 study by the Department of Education. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 30 percent of all entering freshmen are first-generation college students.” -First Generation Foundation

How are you supporting the next generation of Unaccompanied Youth who are also 1st Generation College Graduates?  

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Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Keep Your Religious Schedule, It Never Kept God From Loving Me Before. 

December 23, 2017

As a child my family was not religious. My mother nor my grandmother went to church but they read the bible. I was introduced to church by one of my mothers best friends. I went on their schedule, I watched them participate in their activities and I watched everybody walk past me without saying as much as hello. I didn’t feel like I fit in there, I didn’t belong to a family of the church, or I didn’t belong to a schedule of responsible activities. All I wanted was to belong to God. Once I was baptized at 16 and realized that I belonged to him, I’ve walked in strength every since. I’ve practiced being righteous and treating people how I want to be treated over trying to make people believe what I want them to believe. I believe that it was nobody but God that walked with me all these years when I thought I was alone. I believe it was nobody but him that protected me the many times I wasn’t supposed to see the next morning, the next meal, the next position, the next relationship, the next degree, the next skill, under the next roof or through the next lesson. I found that it’s not God that I disagree with, it’s the religious schedule also known as church business that I don’t agree with.

I don’t agree with not providing everyone with the opportunity to learn, worship and praise him. I don’t agree with turning the lessons of the bible to what we want them to be. I don’t believe in forcing people to be and do what we want them to be and do because we want to place ourselves in God’s shoes so badly. I don’t believe in all the church house rituals that keep the people that need to be there, out. The man made prioritizing of sins as if one sin is greater than another has to be the #1 reason why the people that need God never find him. In spite of the doors closed around me, church being one of them, I still maintain a strong relationship with God and I expose my youth to the vast opportunities with having him in their lives too.

I can have a car full of kids and I will stop, look up and hold an entire conversation with Jesus about what’s going on. Sometimes I stop in mid sentence with them, walk into the sun light and cry a few tears with a smile across my face. Before I give them a destined tough love message, I stop and pray. Some of them are around me at night when I pray for children and youth everywhere for hope somewhere. When I take them to church events I teach them respect as the lesson but they see me go off into my mind talking to him and the tears flowing; which they deem as the bigger lesson. I tell them if it wasn’t for him they wouldn’t be around me, in the program or going on a journey set for success. I tell them it is because of him that I knew my calling at 12 years old, it is because of him that my life didn’t spiral out of control after being hit with all the trauma, it is because of him that it didn’t take me my entire life to determine my purpose. He kept me alive to ensure the lives of other people were great, and to me, only God could do that. Putting just a little bit of him into every youth I come across means that they will put a little bit of him into someone else. Even if its just by saying, “Thank You Jesus.”

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: We Have The Right to Our Emotions, You Would Too if You Were Us. 

December 23, 2017

Trauma amongst unaccompanied minors vary and should not be overlooked. Any trauma affects how a person behaves, for some reason who don’t associate trauma with the development of character and personality. We don’t correlate the effects of trauma with the actions of the person affected. Normally we a fast acting at labeling a person aggressive, angry, confrontational or my personal favorite, “You have an attitude.” We never ask a person what happened to them. What happened to a person who has experienced trauma normally formulates who they become. And who are we to tell a person that has been traumatized how to feel, how to react or how to live beyond the trauma? Who are we to box up their emotions and separate them from who the person is afterwards? Who are we to apply our own labels to a person without asking the most simplistic of questions? Why do we disregard the emotions of a person, yet state that we care about someone? Why is it that a person’s emotional state is never taken into consideration before we place judgement on their lifestyle, attitude, actions, personality or character?

In my community, it’s as if we are not allowed to feel, and if we feel, it is an immediate crime to our family and or our culture at large. We are told, “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” We are told, “You betta pray about it.” or “You bet not tell nobody but God.” We are mentally, physically, emotionally and intellectually scared, bruised, beaten and then thrown away. Just imagine being thrown away after being beaten mentally, physically, emotionally and intellectually as an unaccompanied minor; adding yet another thing to the plate of items you have to figure out. All that you have faced, all that you have endured, all that you have experienced is weighing you down, affecting your decisions and guiding your every choice. Then we go out to the world and people tell us how we should feel and how we should act.

When I was 12 years old, something happened that molded my personality, my character, my outlook on life. When my fathers friend murdered him, it changed my life forever. I no longer admired my mother because it had to be someone’s fault that I didn’t get to know him before he was taken from me. I no longer trusted family or friends immediately without proof that I could. I gained an urgent desire to protect everything and anything that was important to me. I suffered through the grief of someone I never had alone because my family didn’t think I had the right to feel anything about my father’s murder. From being locked in basements, to being told my brothers father wasn’t my father, to being told my father didn’t love me, to being told I wasn’t my father’s daughter, I was punished for grieving. Needless to say, I had to find my own way of dealing with what I felt behind the murder of my father and a whole host of other trauma I faced in my adolescence. So I joined a step team in middle school, remained on a step team in high school and created the same outlet for any youth that experienced anything remotely similar to me called The Divine III Step Team and Mentoring Program in 2007.

Yes you guessed it, I created a positive coping skill and outlet for my youth who struggle with expressing themselves in other capacities. The art of stepping has been the vehicle for my youth to be happy, angry, upset, silly and unregulated without punishment, without judgement, without criticism. Instead of negative reinforcement, they are awarded for putting all of these emotions together to create the work of art we call a step show. The mentoring program provides youth with the family structure necessary to talk about everyday issues, questions, comments or concerns. We’ve also partnered with the best organization for mental wellness and therapeutic services in St. Louis called Khaos Inc.      

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Employment

December 23, 2017

Most people say youth and even young adults should not work. They should be focused on school, sports and other enrichment activities. But can you really focus on those things when:

1. You don’t know where you’re going to sleep.

2. What you’re going to eat.

3. What clothes and shoes you have to wear.

4. If you’ll be able to take a bath.

5. If you’ll be cold as you sleep.

6. If you’ll be hot when you awake.

7. Where you can go if you don’t feel well.

Most youth and young adults don’t have to concern themselves with these things, but we do. And for us, there’s no one in our lives ensuring that these things are in place, so we are forced to provide them for ourselves. Some of us earlier than others. So we are turned to the workforce with little to not training on what it means to sustain employment on top of facing the trauma associated with “having” to work instead of “choosing” to work. Unaccompanied youth are without the transportation, support, guidance and structured needed to sustain for most positions. We experience anxiety when confronted with simple tasks like completing payroll documents, benefits documents, understanding policy and procedure, chain of command, ethics or work related conflict. We feel cornered when confronted by different levels of management, co-workers or even customers that challenge our ability to perform in even the smallest way. Meanwhile almost all youth organizations require employment without providing the support necessary for them to sustain employment.

I have been employed full time since I was 15 years old. Most of the time working 2-3 jobs depending on the stage in life I was in. In the past I could stay on a job for a year or two. That changed to one year by the time I was 21, to 6-8 months by the time I was 24, to 30-90 days by the time I was 26. I’ve been in management positions within the nonprofit sector since I was 18 years old. I’ve worked long, hard, intense hours with demographics such as domestic violence, developmental disabilities, mental illness, autism, alzheimer’s, dementia, ex-felons, veterans, homeless families, homeless individuals, etc. You name it, I’ve probably managed it. I go in as a front line staff and before the company or I know it, I am in management. Typically because of my work ethic, my ability to dissolve complex issues and my leadership skills, I gain respect but being knowledgeable isn’t acceptable in someone else’s organization. But like most people like me, I am fired by majority organizations being told the following reason, “You’re not a good fit.” Not because my work doesn’t get done, my clients are unhappy, my grants don’t get refunded, my department isn’t meeting standards, I’ve mismanaged a budget or even for being late. I have been fired probably 4 times with that excuse and always told, “You are a skilled and hard working young woman. You will be great in this industry someday, I know we will see you in larger than life positions real soon.” I laughed in my head every time. Smiling graciously because being fired could no longer drop me into facing homelessness.

I’ve also been fired before being hired by a CEO saying this, “You don’t need a job, you need to go and start your 5-10 year plan. You have it all figured out, why not do that, how can I help you live your dream?” It took me 5 years to finally listen to my friends, Executive Directors and CEO’s. They’ve been telling the truth all along, I wasn’t a good fit, I’ve truly never fit in anywhere my entire life. So I began to contract my skills instead of accepting more positions. I develop programs, projects, evaluation tools, outcome strategies, compliance standards, policies and procedures as well as training modules/materials for organizations. I guess that’s why I “wasn’t a good fit.” I took 6 months out of the workforce and sat with my passions, with what motivates me and with my dreams. I realized that I’ve always worked because that’s what people told me I had to do to survive. People didn’t tell me that I wouldn’t like it if I wasn’t allowed to apply my knowledge, my skills, my innovation and my creativity to it. So I drew out my ideal career and the Jazzmine Marie Nolan Foundation for Unaccompanied Youth was born.

Needless to say, we don’t just need employment and we don’t just need to go to school. We need to be provided the opportunity to apply the skills learned and the experiences gained. Obtaining both of these things provides us with the sustainability we seek no matter how much money we make. For most of us, we obtain this through entrepreneurship, for others of us we gain this through careers that promote entrepreneurship style positions. As you guessed it, this is exactly what I teach my youth. I teach them the importance of short term sustainability, then I teach them the structure of long term entrepreneurial planning and execution.  

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Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Respect Our Journey Just As You Want Us To Respect Yours. 

December 23, 2017

We are extraordinary people and very well-rounded to say the least. Life has done a number on us but we have survived and demand that we be respected for making it on a journey less traveled by. We endure oppression and poverty alone on top of all the other trauma’s we’ve faced. We don’t have anyone to fall back on, to rely on, to depend on, to support us, to guide us, to provide for us or protect us. We are IT to ourselves and our methods may be extreme but we make it unbeknownst to what we don’t have. We don’t want your pity, sympathy or band-aid resources. We don’t need you to use 10 million words just to insinuate “Something is wrong with you,” in a condescending tone while recommending lengthy therapy even you don’t receive. We are not victims, we are merely unaccompanied youth that will succeed regardless to circumstances beyond our control. Once empowered, encouraged and enlightened, by ourselves and or others, we grow, just like any other human being. If you are in the business of furthering our lives, leave our unorthodox methods unharmed, un-judged and please don’t isolate us further. We don’t make your lifestyle, your character, your personality or your trauma an illness, so don’t make ours one. If you couldn’t make it through a day in our shoes, don’t take a second to judge how we got to you. Just because life happened to us differently than it happened to you, doesn’t make our lives any less valuable than yours. Empathize with us, but do not make anything easy for us as we value working hard for everything we have. That’s the only way we can demand your respect and you require it in return.

Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Unaccompanied Youth Perspective: Holidays  

December  25, 2017

Like most people, unaccompanied youth experience increased anxiety along with symptoms of depression around the holidays. Most of us don't celebrate holidays, understand the purpose or associate them with trauma from our pasts. Most unaccompanied youth are not concerned with gifts, trees or events, they are concerned with the fact that no one around them is their family. No one around us identifies us as a priority to love, to care for or to make even the slightest bit happy. Our friends try hard to include us, our foster parents try hard to include us, the community tries hard to include us, but the truth of the matter is, we have to deem those relationships permanent in order to fill that void with it. 

This is a time in an unaccompanied youths life where we have to pay special attention to their words, their actions, their specific behaviors and the very triggers they respond to, rather negative or positive. LISTEN, OBSERVE and RESPOND to them every time. It is important that we encourage unaccompanied youth to face the anxieties they experience around holidays in order to develop healthy methods to work through them. It is important that we allow unaccompanied youth a safe place to feel all that they feel during this very special time for most people, that may not be so special for them. It is important that we surround unaccompanied youth with permanent relationships they can depend on consistently throughout their lives. It is critical that all the professionals involved with unaccompanied youth stop being professional on any day that a youth feels anxiety and practice being humane. After all, it is the feeling of compassion that we haven't experienced and we don't need another professional telling us how we should feel, think or behave during the most heightened days of our lives.  

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