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
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 nine 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 on getting 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, hopes 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
*Youth's name changed to protect their identity. The photo shown is not of the people in the story.