Becca was abandoned on the side of the road by street friends somewhere in Toronto. She had spent time in a group home and then bounced rootlessly for three years between dodgy housing situations before hitching a ride to the city. Lost, starving and dressed in tattered clothes, the sixteen-year-old walked for what seemed like miles along a highway until she arrived at a coffee shop shaking and terrified. The police brought her to Covenant House.
When Becca came to us, she was a torrent of unfocused emotion. A life of horrific physical and sexual abuse had taught her that adults were dangerous.
“I was pretty feisty when I first came here. I would snap for no reason. I was angry at everybody and I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Becca remembers.
By the time Becca left her home with her adoptive family at 13, she had experienced untold pain and loss in her young life. She was taken away from her alcoholic mother as a baby. But, life with her adoptive family was agonizing. “It was hard to smile at first, because at home I would get punched for smiling,” she explained.
As a child, Becca sometimes wouldn’t be fed for long periods, and she would sometimes have to “earn” necessities through unspeakable acts. When she came to Covenant House, Becca wolfed food down and guarded her plate when people walked by, an all too common behavior from neglected kids. Everything she had known taught her not to trust someone to provide for her unconditionally.
Slowly, Becca let her guard down and got to know some of the staff. “Staff noticed that I started to calm down when I began opening up to my youth worker. I really connected with her,” she recalls.
Becca moved from the Crisis Shelter to the longer-term Rights of Passage program. She attended our onsite school and our Cooking for Life culinary arts training program.
Becca also participated in a 12-week intensive Dialectical Behaviour Therapy session facilitated by our youth workers and our onsite Health Clinic psychiatrist. This marked a real turning point for her. The program helps youth who are struggling with trauma and mental health challenges to develop coping strategies and interpersonal life skills.
The techniques Becca learned in the group and one-on-one sessions helped her relax, diffuse her anger and interact with others in a healthy way. She started to get along better with staff and her peers.
After some time, Becca began to see a vision of a new life for herself. “I noticed that people with jobs seemed a lot happier–they had money and something to focus on. And, they dressed differently from me,” she explained. She traded in her pierced and punky look for a more professional one, and eventually landed a job in the kitchen of a busy Irish pub.
Becca brightens as she names the numerous staff members who she counts as mentors in programs around Covenant House. She speaks with warmth and generous enthusiasm about a supervisor in our longer-term Rights of Passage program, the coordinator at our onsite school, a job coach in our Job Centre, the housing placement workers and her Youth In Transition worker who helped her start life in her new North York apartment. The adults at Covenant House have given her a sense of home and family she never had before.
Composed and smartly dressed, Becca, now 22, is a striking and confident young woman who shares her story with an open heart. These days, she splits her time between working at the pub, finishing up her high school diploma and checking in with our drop-in centre. She is exploring several career options. She also enjoys exercise, meditation and the outdoors. It has been a very long journey to emotional well-being for Becca. She is still doing the hard work of healing from the scars of her youth, but for now, she knows the worst is over.