“She controlled my life. She would shout and talk at me. I would be shaking and stammering if I had to tell her anything,” Marie recalls. “One day, I wrote my aunt a long letter. I never gave it to her and I still have it. She never would have read it anyways.”
Marie was born to a loving 19-year-old mother. Her mom had received little education, so she worked hard to give her daughter the opportunities she never had. When Marie was 15 years old, her mother sent her to live with her aunt in Canada.
Marie’s aunt took her in, but on the condition that she earn her keep. Early every morning, while her aunt and children slept, Marie would sweep, mop, clean and vacuum. She would do the dishes for every meal. And on grocery day, she would prepare and freeze a month’s worth of food. She would spend hours completing her chores, and was often unable to leave the house.
Last Christmas morning, Marie awoke to a pile of dirty dishes and an untidy house that she was expected to meticulously clean. Marie had always loved the holidays—the music, the decorations, the spirit of generosity. But she was living with her aunt who insisted she carefully complete a long list of household chores every morning with no exceptions. On Christmas day, the family left Marie to work alone, or to face consequences.
“I knew I couldn’t afford to live on my own at that point, but it got so bad. When I was there, I felt like I was being crushed and couldn’t breathe.”
Marie decided she needed to leave for her own mental well-being. An online search of “youth shelters” brought her to Covenant House. When she arrived, she remembers a caring youth worker telling her, “You’ve come to the right place!”
“Since I came here, it has been awesome,” Marie shares. After living in our crisis shelter for a few months, she moved to our longer-term transitional housing program, Rights of Passage, where youth are expected to share chores and complete life skills workshops. “But it’s different than at my aunt’s house,” she adds. “Here, there are rules, but they are fair. I expect them and I chose to sign up for them.”
One day, Marie attended a social gathering at Covenant House. When she returned to her room, she told another resident. “I like this feeling. I’m happy!” She realized it had been a long time since that had come easily to her.
Marie signed up for our culinary arts training program, Cooking for Life. She is excelling in the program with her cheerful demeanor and remarkable knife skills, honed through years of preparing food for her aunt’s family.
When asked about her long-term plans, Marie’s sunny smile fades wistfully. “I would like to bring my mom here someday, or buy her a restaurant to manage back home. Something to help her.” She and her mom are still very close, and call each other often. They long for the day they can be reunited.
But for now, Marie is thinking about the upcoming holiday festivities. She plans to play Christmas music on her stereo constantly, bake mint chocolate chip cookies with a youth worker, and perhaps visit a friend’s family.
“Most of all, I’m looking forward to spending Christmas surrounded by friends and staff at Covenant House—people who care about me.”