Meet Leslie... A survivor in a world that's been unkind

By Ashley Biviano

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows during Leslie’s childhood, but just ahead of her eighteenth birthday, she has a positive mindset, is ready to embark on new adventures, and after an incredibly difficult upbringing, she said she’s learned tools necessary to succeed.

A native of Monroe County, Leslie came to be a resident at Homespace about five months ago. Prior to coming to our program, she said she’d been in the foster care system for the past four years. “I was in other programs, they weren’t good at all,” she said. “Homespace has treated me better in that regard.” 

Leslie has endured more than many people could imagine, all before even becoming an adult. The trauma she experienced as a young child continued into her pre-teen and teen years, outlining abhorrent incidents.

These experiences, Leslie admitted, led her down a dark, self-destructive path at a young age, involving self-medicating to numb the pain, and other methods that she thought would help her cope but later learned were not in her best interests and were not safe.

It’s imperative to understand, though, that Leslie is not her trauma. She is not her past. She is not defined by what she has gone through – what she has endured.

She is not confined to the label of “victim.” Next to her name, you will not find the words “broken,” “irreparable,” or “lost.”

Instead, you’ll see she’s a survivor. A fighter in a world that has been unfair to her.

Leslie is not defined by how many times she can metaphorically take a hit in life – no matter how hard – and get back up. It’s grace and acceptance that help her to thrive.

She learned about Homespace from a friend, she said. “It had to be better than where I had been, and that’s true.”

While her time spent in our program hasn’t been easy, she said it has been worth it.

Leslie said because of the bonds she made with some of the staff members, she can cope with certain triggers and has developed a safety plan that she knows how to implement now and will carry on with her into the future.

Homespace life was hard to adjust to, Leslie admitted. “Some of the rules just didn’t make sense to me,” she said, adding maybe in the future it’d be something she would understand better. Forming relationships with other youth was also a challenge Leslie stumbled across. While she said she did have friends, there were difficult moments, which is to be expected when living with people you don’t know.

She loves cooking – fried chicken is her favorite thing to make. That, or shrimp, she said. With macaroni and cheese or potatoes. A fan of the arts, she fashions homemade stress balls using balloons, glue and glitter. She enjoys makeup, movies, and relaxing. Like many teenagers, she enjoys scrolling Tik Tok for entertainment.

Leslie said her holiday at Homespace was memorable. Thanks to sponsors of the organization, she was gifted items from her wish list, and was able to open gifts from her extended Homespace family. She was grateful for everything she received.

And as for ringing in 2022? She, laughingly, said she likes to sleep too much and didn’t make it to midnight to watch the ball drop.

Once she leaves our program, she said she will be returning to Monroe County and has been in contact with a Drill Instructor. She plans to finish her schooling and continue a path that will lead her to self-sufficiency, independence and success.

“I will absolutely stay in contact with a couple of the staff here,” she said. “They really saved me, they were there for me, they helped me in ways other people couldn’t. I’ll never forget them, or my time here.”

Leslie’s story is unique. Her past is hers to own and work through as she navigates into adulthood and through the rest of her life. It has been our pleasure to be a part of her journey and a portion of her life story.

However, there are so many other young people with pasts that parallel to Leslie’s in one way or another, and Homespace will be ready to help that next person – or people – ready to tackle their past, learn coping mechanisms to deal with prior trauma, absorb life skills including cooking, budgeting, shopping, laundry, cleaning, and – of course – enjoy being a teenager and having fun.