Courage, resilience and compassion:
Helena’s journey to freedom starts with a pair of shoes
by Keela Keeping
On many given days this summer, 18-year-old Helena May could be found handing out water to those in the homeless community in Mission. When she learned of the community’s desperate need for clean water, having spent some tough nights on the street herself, she felt compelled to help. “I love these people,” she says. “I love all of our community.”
Helena had been struggling with challenging living situations for several years before Youth Unlimited’s Mission Youth House (MY House) intervened. Her dramatic life-path change started with a pair of K-Swiss shoes.
She was attending school in Mission and her shoes were in shambles. The school counsellor recommended that Helena ask YU youth worker Scott Guitard for a new pair of shoes as the Vans Shoes store in Guildford generously provides shoes for youth who need it. Helena was thrilled with the stylish shoes and began visiting MY House.
The early years
When she was very young, Helena and her sister ended up in the custody of her grandma. Those years were extremely hard on Helena. At age seven, her dad was released from prison and the girls were reunited with their parents, creating many happy memories. “I got to do regular kid stuff like play softball, go fishing, and take dance classes,” she explains. But the stability didn’t last.
At age 12, Helena ended up hanging out at a party house with older teens who were also coping with their own struggles.
“They’d be drunk, by 8 am,” says Helena. “The girls coaxed me to drink more. I knew it was wrong, but I looked up to those girls.”
By 16, she was dealing drugs, convinced she had no other options for work. Lost in a fog of mental health concerns and addiction, and enduring fights with her mom that became violent, she left home.
“I felt like I had nowhere to go and like my family didn’t want me,” she says. “I wasn’t proud of my addiction, so I felt like the streets were where I belonged.” Helena fought to get out of the cycle and went to detox, but needed help maintaining sobriety with all the unhealthy influences surrounding her.
Light breaks through
After missing most of her grade nine school year, Helena was placed at Fraserview Learning Centre School and “that was the best thing that could have happened,” she says.
It was there that Helena met Scott who provided her not just with shoes, but also with encouragement and a much-needed introduction to MY House, a critical resource for homeless and street-involved youth.
“She’s always been outgoing and friendly,” says Scott, who helps run My House, “but there was a lot of unhealthiness in her life. God drew her to us and I was thrilled to play a role in loving her into the community she needed and helping her make some big life changes.”
Helena became a consistent fixture at MY House. Whether to get food, a shower, medical advice or to see friends, it was where Helena felt safe. YU youth workers became a constant in her life, and they, along with other caring workers, helped provide a continuum of care, giving Helena the strength she needed to make changes.
A very bright future
Today, Helena is clean, sober, working full-time and living with her grandmother. This resilient, confident young woman’s future is so bright. Over the summer, she was the MY House summer intern, organizing events and being a beacon of hope to those struggling where she once was.
“I don’t know where I’d be without this place,” she says. “It was here when I needed something to eat and needed a safe person to talk to. I’m very grateful for MY House.”