When Cassy first walked into ISIS House, YouthCare’s transitional living program for LGBTQ youth 18-21, “she looked terrified,” recalls Pro-Youth Employment Project & WIA Supervisor Leslie Horton. Her home life had been unstable and violent. As Cassy says, “there was a lot of tough stuff going on.” She was staying on a friend’s couch when she finally asked for help – and a counselor at an organization for deaf women helped her find her way to YouthCare.
Leslie realized early on that “working was not a priority in Cassy’s home environment. There was not a lot of encouragement from her parents to be a productive person.” But ISIS staff brought Cassy to the Tile Project, an employment training program located at YouthCare’s Orion Center, and there she learned about much more than ceramics – including the importance of being on time, sticking with projects, and communicating with employers. Meanwhile, back at ISIS, she was learning related life skills like budgeting and saving.
Now, for the first time, Cassy was thinking seriously about her future in the working world. “Someone had to tell me I could earn money. I was kind of clueless. As a kid, I would collect pop cans, or I would go to my friends to borrow money.”
Cassy was excited at the prospect of employment – but the economy was in decline, and, as a deaf woman, she faced further challenges. Leslie, who is able to sign, often accompanied Cassy to meet employers – but she was also encouraged to be independent. “Before, I was always like, ‘Call for me, call for me! I’m so nervous, I can’t do it myself!’ And they’d say, ‘Do it yourself. In the future what are you going to do?’ So I would go ahead and start calling, and that’s how I learned that process – and now I understand. It’s ingrained in me.”
Cassy searched for over a year, with continuing guidance from her employment counselor. Finally, persistence paid off. She found a position at Safeway and started discovering some of the rewards of work. For one thing, she used some of her savings to explore the Western U.S. with her best friend – the first time she had traveled anywhere. “Now I’m different,” she’ll tell you. “Now I’m independent.” In 2009, she demonstrated that by moving into an apartment at YouthCare’s Home of Hope, where she began paying partially subsidized rent and learning what it means to create a home.
Today, Cassy is a changed woman – no longer scared, but vibrant, self-assured, proud of her job and her successes – thanks to her own growth and to YouthCare setting the stage for it. As Leslie says, “It was no single program or person. It took all of those people and programs.”
Cassy has moved on from YouthCare housing and is now sharing an apartment with friends. As she contemplates all the other ways in which she’s moving forward, one thing is certain in her mind: none of this would have been possible without YouthCare. “I don’t even know where I would be. Not here.”