Today’s post is written by Danielle Herzog. From her website:
Danielle Herzog is a freelance writer, speaker, television correspondent, mother and member of one ridiculously insane large Italian family. And by insane, she’s referring to aunts that still pinch her cheeks, and uncles who slap her husband’s face when they say hello. She has about thirty cousins whose names are Godfather characters.
She’s written everything from restaurant reviews, to the style section, to book talk and eventually parenting. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Parenting, The Huffington Post, Mamalode, AOL, What to Expect, Barnes & Noble, and Nickelodeon, as well as other national and local publications. She’s spoken and led workshops on writing, as well as provided on-air reporting and corresponding for various television shows.
Danielle is participating in Dance for a Chance, a Dancing with the Stars type event to benefit YES (Youth Emergency Services) in Omaha. Thank you, Danielle, for sharing Kayla’s story and educating us about YES a bit more. The event takes place on July 29th, but you can vote now! More information on how to support this event is found below.
Kayla. Putting a Face to Homelessness.
by Danielle Herzog
I put my hand gently on top of hers and told that for the third time that she didn’t need to call me “ma’am”. Sitting at the picnic table in the backyard of the Youth Emergency Service’s maternity home, we were equals. Both mothers of two children struggling to balance family, work and school in each of our lives. However, the difference was I was 41 years old with a husband and living in suburbia and she was 18, raising a toddler and newborn alone and coming off a year of being homeless.
The truth was, we had nothing in common.
Nothing except motherhood.
And even that looked different from each of our eyes.
I had the chance to interview Kayla last week because I wanted to know more about how YES helped her and what homelessness really looked like. I wanted to put a face to the sad statistics that are out there about the growing rate of homeless youth.
Kayla has seen things that I couldn’t even imagine. She’s bounced from house to house, fallen for the wrong type of guy twice, and slept on the steps of a church with a newborn baby. And as she tells me her story of her difficult Alabama upbringing, I’m in awe of what she’s survived. Not just survived but thrived from having gone through.
And she credits two things to her newfound strength. The first are two teachers from Bellevue West who took her in when she needed it most. And the second is Youth Emergency Services for giving her the chance to be independent by letting her live at their maternity house and teaching her how to become the mother she works every day to be.
But to me, she’s already an amazing mother. She lights up when she talks about her children. How she is bound and determined to give them a childhood so different from her own. And how she will finish high school next year and plans to join the Air Force. She lives to show them a woman who works hard to finish a goal.
She doesn’t go on dates. Doesn’t meet up at the movies with friends or go out shopping with girlfriends. She doesn’t have a babysitter on speed dial or a mommy group she can lean on. She probably won’t go to prom or participate in after-school clubs. The truth is, she spends all of her time either with her children, working or doing schoolwork.
And she has regrets. Many.
But her children aren’t one.
And luckily, Youth Emergency Services (YES) understands that. They never judged. Never lectured. Never told her that she was wrong. They opened their arms to her and gave her a home. A home with rules, chores and responsibilities, but most importantly, support. A great deal of support. Exactly what a home should have.
I chose to interview Kayla because I’m part of YES’s Dance for a Chance event this year. I’m paired with a dance teacher to learn a routine that is performed the night of the event. It’s similar to Dancing with the Stars but I am definitely no star and quite certain my awkward movements can hardly count as dancing. But I’m doing it because every single dime raised goes to homeless youth right here in our community. Not just pregnant or teen mothers, but all homeless youth.
We all say we wish we could help in our community, don’t we? But children, activities, work and life in general always seems to take over.
So here’s what I’m asking. Stop for a second and look around at your life. Looks pretty good, right? Looks safe and happy?
Now imagine all of that suddenly gone. No beautiful yard. No food on the table. No loved one asking you how your day was.
And now imagine all of that as a scared teenager.
You have the power to help a terrified, scared teen get a chance to feel that same safe feeling you have. YES is raising money for its programs by “voting” for different dancers for this year’s event. I don’t care who you vote for (though, heck, I wouldn’t mind if you picked me!) but I just ask that you vote. Votes are $5 each and it can all be done online.
Homelessness isn’t something happening to other people. It’s happening in our communities. On the streets we drive every day. As a parent, I want to scoop all those terrified teens up in my arms and give each and every one of them a chance. Don’t you too? If we can’t be their parent, let’s at least be their advocate.
To vote: https://qtego.net/qlink/yes
To learn more about Youth Emergency Services: http://www.yesomaha.org/