Growing up in a large family, Shanae sometimes disappeared into the shadows. Although there was a lot of love in her family, Shanae’s parents were proud and traditional. When she told them about a traumatic experience with a trusted adult, they were not able to give her the emotional support she needed. She was expected to forget and move on.
Her parents, who were professionals, emigrated with their young family from Africa. Through high school as an immigrant, Shanae struggled with bullies. She started to spiral into self-destructive patterns of drinking and partying.
At 19, Shanae felt she had to escape her painful memories and feelings of isolation. She ran to Toronto where she quickly found her way to Covenant House. She stayed in our crisis shelter and got support for her addiction from our health care clinic. She also spent a brief period in our mental health program, Arts & Minds, where she demonstrated her artistic gifts in the art therapy workshops. Shanae was always a capable student, so she also attended our onsite school to regain some confidence.
Shanae was charming, articulate and charismatic, but her anger was never far from the surface. Frequent conflicts, incidents while drinking and arrests for petty theft kept her from moving forward in her life for several months.
Rachel, one of the job developers in our vocational services program, forged a relationship of trust and honesty with her. It was the mentorship that Shanae needed. Along with hard skills like presenting well in an interview, Rachel taught Shanae life skills that would help her on and off the job. “I told her she had so much opportunity available to her if she could just get out of her own way,” Rachel explains.
“One day, she just shifted her focus towards things that moved her forward rather than the things that held her back,” Rachel recalls. She helped Shanae land a job in a store and the young woman found her ability to persuade others was something she could harness positively in a sales position.
With Shanae’s success at work and the lessons she had learned, she felt her life was beginning to change. She started to save money, improve her relationships, and make better life decisions. She felt empowered by her ability to create her own destiny. “A lot of people think they know how to look for work, but when you really know what to do, you don’t feel alone in the big, scary job world,” Shanae shares. “There are so many options out there for you.”
Rachel continued to meet with Shanae weekly to check in with her on her job and life. Since Shanae enjoyed a good cup of tea, Rachel would keep a mug in her office just for her. They would bond over books they were reading and swap thoughts on various topics. After a few months of stability and success at the store, Rachel told Shanae that they did not have to meet formally anymore. “I told her she could always come to me to talk, but she didn’t need my help with job development anymore,” Rachel said.
Rachel is proud of the young woman that Shanae has become. “Her struggle has given her depth and perspective. She is so much wiser than her years,” she says.
“Now that I look back, I know I had to go through my time at Covenant House,” shares Shanae, now 21. “I’m in a different place now. I feel free.”
Shanae recently moved back home to reconnect with her family and she’s been accepted to a local university to study film. In the meantime, she has landed a job as a hostess in a nice restaurant for the summer.