Stories / Youth
Out of School and In the Streets, But That's Not What Defines Sonja
Already at 15 years old, Sonja* is a problem-solver extraordinaire. She’s so good that those around her have taken notice and seek her out to help them solve their problems. So why then did she drop out of school during her freshman year and live outside by herself in a tent under a bridge?
The challenges most teens face may include getting into trouble for playing too many video games, managing the stress of schoolwork and earning good grades, deciding which party to go to on Saturday, and dealing with upset parents when they stay out too late.
Teens should not have to face problems such as how to stay safe at night while sleeping, where to get a warm meal, who to trust to look out for them, or how to enroll in school when they don’t have a permanent address.
Sonja has faced these daunting challenges and more, yet, she does not ask for sympathy. She wants to be of service to others instead. “Sonja puts everyone around her first,” explained her professional mentor, Jenny*. “While Sonja was out of school she wasn’t just lying around, she was helping people she cared for with their various challenges. Sonja was so focused on helping everyone and anyone, that she wasn’t doing stuff for herself.”
Sonja did, however, continue to meet weekly with Jenny. “I have been Sonja’s mentor for the past 9 years which I think has helped allow me to support her with her goals more effectively given how close we are. Despite being homeless and living in a tent, while also being very mobile, not having a cell phone and not being enrolled in school, she always found a way to connect with me.”
But over time, something in Sonja began to change. She started to reflect on how much she helped others and how very little others were willing to help her. She started narrowing down influences and relationships in her life to those that were more positive. She began to focus on the things that would benefit her and her future. Sonja was ready to put herself first and get back into school.
After two months, Sonja enrolled in Helensview with the support of Jenny who continues to support her every step of the way. “Our outings sometimes feel like business meetings as we make lists together, checking things off and working to get things done to set her up to accomplish her goals. Sonja has an incredible memory and despite living in very uncertain conditions, she remains very mentally organized—not forgetting outings or things we have on our to-do list. She utilized her problem-solving skills to get enrolled into her school of choice after being out for nine months. She made everything happen without any support from a guardian figure.”
There are a lot of reasons for why someone might drop out of school or end up living outside in a tent. In fact, it can be complicated and the result of multiple factors. What’s not very complicated, however, is how someone turns those events around. It takes belief in yourself and your abilities, hope for the future, and very often, a friend to help you along the way.
“She’s an inspiration and who I seek out when I need help solving problems of my own. She always offers really great and honest advice,” extolled Jenny. “I love that she doesn’t sugar coat things for me, she always tells me a very honest assessment of what I should do—a sign of a true friend.”
*Names have been changed to protect youth privacy. The photo shown is not of the people in the story.