Lean on Me

Annelle’s* parents separated when she was just a year old. As a teenager she bounced back and forth between her parents. Her mother kidnapped her at one point, but eventually sent her back to live with her dad and stepmother in Aspen, Colorado, until she was 16 years old.

"I was like Cinderella. I had to wait on people hand and foot. I would go to school, come home, clean the house, make dinner, put the food away, clean the dishes, do all the laundry."

A young woman wearing a backpack sits on the ground.One day her father decided that she would be better off living with her mom in Denver.

"He took me to this gas station in Colorado Springs and dropped me off with all my stuff. I called my mom and she came and got me."

She started using marijuana and drinking at age 12. At 16, after bonding with a group of homeless youth, she started using heroin and methamphetamine. She ended up hitchhiking around the country. She moved from California to Arizona to New Mexico and back to Colorado.

"I might go to California for a few months, but I would always come back to Denver. When you’re strung out, you don’t really go anywhere. I would be down in the mall area where you could hustle money and buy drugs, and that’s where outreach really got to know me. They told me about the STAR Program for like a year before I was finally, like, ‘Okay, I’m ready.’ I had no one left. This was not the life I wanted to live, I deserved more for myself."

Annelle entered the STAR transitional living program, and within the first 24 hours, staff members contacted her parents and began to help them communicate with each other.

"I was able to talk to people there like I was a normal person. That let me know that someone out there really did care about me unconditionally. They were not there to judge me."

She started undergoing group therapy, substance abuse treatment, and counseling and lived in the program’s 17-unit apartment building for a year and a half.

She successfully graduated from the program. The proof of how far she had traveled came when her agency offered her a job as an outreach counselor. Now she lives in her own apartment and works with other young people who are on the streets, helping them to leave the streets and live constructive lives. And she has reconnected with her mother.

"Being in the program put me in the position to show her that I got my stuff together. It took me a minute to get her trust back. But now she totally trusts me and that’s awesome. We talk all the time and it’s the best feeling, like, you know, to have your mom be proud of you."

*Names of the young people have been changed

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