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April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

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This month is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Take our pledge to end child abuse and neglect.

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Congratulations to 2016 Mercy Home’s Graduates!

Congratulations to 2016 Mercy Home’s Graduates!

Photo by Cindy Fandl

At the Hilton Chicago on Tuesday, June 7, 2016  Fr. Scott welcomed friends, coworkers, and supporters of our young people’s education to congratulate, celebrate, and honor Mercy Home’s graduating class of 2016. The road to graduation is difficult for many, and especially so for Mercy Home’s boys and girls. While keeping up with class assignments and studying for exams, our young people also overcame personal obstacles. The 14th annual Graduates’ Luncheon, hosted by our Leader Council, was the perfect way to recognize the dedication and perseverance of our young men and women.

Noha Home youth and 8th grade graduate De’Mere kicked off the event by introducing his fellow graduates, who were met with a standing ovation as they entered the ballroom.

Mercy Home Board of Regents member Jim Williams was next to the stage, reprising his role as the event’s emcee. After recognizing De’Mere’s academic accomplishments and welcoming the guests, Williams invited Mercy Home youth Andrew to the stage to help introduce Fr. Scott.

Fr. Scott shared his favorite word, mira—Spanish for “look”—with the audience, and asked the graduates to stand and mira—to look and see all of the love, kindness, and support that filled the room. He then expressed his deepest thanks to Mercy Home’s friends, coworkers, and board members who help shepherd our boys and girls through our doors and into our care.

Once lunch ended, Williams called Mercy Home young woman Princess to the stage, who had the honor of introducing the event’s keynote speaker, The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) CEO Lori Healey. Healey commended Fr. Scott, Mercy Home, and the Leader council for “their commitment of keeping Mercy Home at the forefront of improving young lives in Chicago.”

She also congratulated the graduates on their achievements, and talked to them about the importance of luck and gratitude. Acknowledging the help and luck received on their paths to success, Healey said, is just as important as recalling the obstacles they’ve overcome along the way.

With the keynote speech finished, AT&T’s Paul La Schiazza took a turn at the mic to introduce the youth speaker, Josefina.

“We can be anything we want to be. Choose your path. Love what you do. And create your story.”

High School Graduate – Josefina

Photo by Cindy Fandl

The Seton Academy graduate fearlessly shared her story, beginning in violent surroundings, before she found her way to Mercy Home. With the help of her youth care workers and support staff, she said, “I can finally focus on things I’m passionate about.” Thanks to our supporters and coworkers, she was able to leave behind a past of pain, loss, and addiction to rediscover her dream of being a nurse. “We can be anything we want to be,” she reminded her fellow graduates. “Choose your path. Love what you do. And create your story.”

Our deepest thanks to our many speakers and emcees, to the Leader Council, and to everyone who helped make possible such a moving event. And Congratulations to Mercy Home’s graduating class of 2016!

Thank you. “What do you we want to be when we grow up?” We were all asked that question when we were little, right? For me, I heard that when I was in first grade. My teachers told us we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we loved what we were doing. I knew I wanted to be a nurse. Every time I went to the doctor, the nurses were so kind, and I wanted to wear those cute purple nurse’s scrubs. Now, my fellow graduates, they wanted to be medical engineers, lawyers, mechanics, businessmen, businesswomen. But, we just didn’t know how much we had to get through to get here. We didn’t realize what we were about to survive. We all have a story. All of the graduates here with me today, I tell you my story on their behalf. Probably, our stories are very different from yours. My name is Josefina, and this is my story.

It starts on the south side of Chicago where I grew up with my family: my mom, my dad, my sister, and my favorite cousin Adrian. My mom was always there to support me, and my dad made sure I had everything I needed. Like a good big sister, my sister was there for me. She protected me. She helped raise me. Adrian lived with us. He was my big brother, my father, my everything. My family wasn’t perfect, but we shared good times together. As I got older, I began to notice that everything around me was not so good. There was a lot of violence in my neighborhood, gang-banging. I mean, you would walk out the door and see people getting beat up, stabbed, shot. Violence was everywhere. My mom made sure we were inside the house before the street lights turned on. She did not want us to see what happened at night. It’s what mothers do. Because of all that violence, we ended up moving to a safer area. My little brother was a newborn, and we did not want him to grow up with fear, the same fear of violence that I grew up in. But for me, my fear only grew. Maybe it was always there, and I just didn’t notice it.

But, I realized my family wasn’t safe because the violence wasn’t just in my neighborhood. It was in my home. Alcohol. It played a big role in my father’s life. It played a big role in all of our lives. It led to physical abuse in our home. I knew this was not how my mom should be treated, and I knew it was not how my dad should act. It was alcohol, abuse, apology, he’s back. Alcohol, abuse, apology, he’s back. My mother told me over and over they were getting a divorce, we were moving away. It never happened. Alcohol, abuse, apology, he’s back. I would get mad at him, and I would get mad at her because she stayed. I will never settle for that.

I felt like I could not talk to anyone. I just felt like I was alone. I felt disappointed by my entire family. The only person I trusted was my cousin, Adrian. When we moved, Adrian stayed behind, but he was always a phone call away. One day, we got a phone call from my aunt. She was screaming and crying. We couldn’t even hear what she was saying, “It was Adrian. My Adrian. He got shot, killed on the spot coming home from work.” A few steps away from the house, but so far away from me. To this day, it hurts that I will never hear Adrian’s voice again. It was unreal seeing him at his funeral, knowing that he couldn’t wake up and tell me that everything was going to be all right. The bond that we had was unbreakable. It was heartbreaking to let him go. I was emotionally and physically devastated.

This hurt continued as I began high school. I was so distracted by my family and the abuse that I spent most of my time getting in to trouble. That was my freshman year. Not a good start. I had a bad attitude and didn’t care about the consequences. I had no hope for the future. I knew I wouldn’t be anything, certainly not a nurse. So, why try? I didn’t have many friends in high school, so I made my own best friend, marijuana. It helped me escape from the world. It was a way to distract myself from the real issues. So I got high all the time. And eventually, the abuse at home became too much. I couldn’t put up with it anymore, so I decided to fight back, physically fight back against my own father.

Needless to say, weeks later, I moved in to Mercy Home. It was through a friend of my mom who knew we had problems at home. Big problems. Being at Mercy Home, the sudden change of pace and expectations, I was like, “Ugh, this is too much.” I didn’t know how to react, but I knew it was better than where I was. My life completely changed. I went from doing what I wanted to following somebody else’s rules and depending on a schedule. You had to be at meetings, listen to other people, eat at a certain time, go to bed at a certain time. I mean, honestly, Father Scott, it was too much.

To say the least, it took about six months. Six heartbreaking months. Then I realized, Mercy Home was a place where I had a second chance at getting my life right. Everything I needed was there. All I needed was commitment and to believe in myself. I worked through the trauma of my father’s abuse and everything I had been through with my therapist, Linda. And slowly, I began to make better decisions and to value my life. I felt like I finally had someone to talk to, and I found friends at Mercy Home who I could talk to and have fun with, true happiness, like I’m a regular high schooler.

The staff at Mercy Home helped me identify my goals and achieve them. One big goal that I’ve reached? Giving up marijuana. No longer in my life. Because of the support of a recovery group led by Mark and Linda at Mercy Home, I have been sober for one year and five months.

Mercy Home also gave me a fresh start at a new high school. I started the second half of my junior year at Elizabeth Seton Academy. When I transferred, I was behind on credits. Catching up, being able to walk across the stage at graduation seemed impossible. But, I wanted to be the change in my family, to become everything everyone said I couldn’t be. So, I worked really hard. I took extra classes during the year and over the summer to make up my missing credits. Now, my grades are better than ever, and I started rebuilding a relationship with my family.

No family on earth is perfect. We all know that. Sometimes, the pain hurts so much that the bad times overshadow the good ones. But today, my family and I, we work together, all of us – my mom, my dad, my sister, and my younger siblings. It hasn’t been easy to forgive my father, but I keep working at it. We all help each other heal the wounds one day at a time. I can finally focus on things I’m passionate about. I became treasurer of the student council and co-captain on the softball team. Thanks to Mercy Home, I had an internship at La Rabida Children’s Hospital. I learned a lot, and I love my job there, wearing those cute purple nurse’s scrubs. They even invited me to stay on as an employee. There I was living my first grade dream.

As someone once said, “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be what you were meant to be in the first place.” With the help of Mercy Home and its supporters, I did what no one thought I could do. I walked across that stage. On May 26, I graduated from high school. Mercy Home taught me how to be a leader, to be independent, caring, hard-working, loving, responsible, and outgoing, just like a nurse. This fall, I will be the first in my family to go to college. I will be starting my freshman year at Joliet Junior College taking the basics. Then, I’ll be going to Trinity Christian College to become a labor and delivery nurse. Father Scott, leader counsel, Mercy Home staff, and Mercy Home supporters, I want to thank you for giving us the chance to make ourselves great. We all have different backgrounds, different stories. But, we have accomplished so much because of your care and your support in our lives. Well, that was my story, at least a 10-minute version of it.

Graduates, you each have your story. Be proud of it. Be proud of where you are today. This is just the beginning. So what do we want to be when we grow up? We can be anything we want to be. Choose your path. Love what you do. And create your story. Thank you.

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