Young Man Finds His Voice at Mercy Home

Young Man Finds His Voice at Mercy Home

Behind the Scenes

For the first 18 years of his life, Clemente Aragon stuck to the script.  

He went to school, he went to work, he returned home. He also hardly spoke unless spoken to. He rarely did activities that required the presence of another or a helping hand, and he liked it that way. In the safety of this predictability, Clemente felt at ease. Isolation was more than just a habit, though. It was his way of coping. 

What plagued him was much like the anxiety of those with stage fright. Except for Clemente, the world was his stage, and he was always afraid to perform. For years, he found comfort in the quiet darkness of solitude. Like an actor behind the curtain, Clemente hid himself from the audiences we all must see each day – classmates, peers, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and even family.

“I really couldn’t do anything. I was too shy. Even going out would cause me so much anxiety. I felt terrible. And after high school, I was afraid that I’d be all on my own and not know what to do,” Clemente said. “And at family functions, I was just the guy in the corner. I didn’t really say anything.”

Clemente’s preferred cycle of predictability and isolation was threatened, however, when his parents sat him down for a conversation one evening. Ultimately,  they were sympathetic yet worried about how their son would take care of himself, and how he would grow into a responsible young person capable of setting goals and achieving them.

“My parents asked ‘Okay, you’re 18 and an adult now. What are you going to do?’” Clemente remembered.

“I was kind of a mess back then and not sure what I was going to do. I thought I might just end up with a dishwashing job, something behind the scenes.”

– Clemente

Clemente and his parents were confounded by the uncertainty of his future. After all, he was a legal adult. But where would he work? Where would he live, and how?  

Thankfully, a family friend of Clemente’s was aware of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. After two daughters of her own lived at Mercy Home, she suggested the idea to Clemente and to his family.

“At first, I said no,” Clemente said. “Because I was so introverted, I was panicking and didn’t want to go because just the idea made my anxiety rise. But she said that it would make me an independent person. And that was my goal. And I thank them now for the recommendation.” 

Breaking Character

When Clemente first arrived at Mercy Home, he often fell into old habits. He stayed in his room most of the time, unwilling to interact with peers or staff. Staying in his room protected him from the fear of judgement, of ridicule, of being seen. So, the cycle continued.  

“I was just in my room the whole time and I didn’t want to leave. I asked myself ‘what am I doing?’” Clemente remembered. “I was just panicking all time.” 

Still, Mercy Home coworkers were not willing to give up on Clemente. Nor did they push him past his own limits. Instead, they gave him the space to heal in his own time. When he was ready, our coworkers welcomed him from his self-imposed isolation and into an open-armed community.

At Mercy Home, community is encouraged through group activities, positive interactions with coworkers, and through the genuine friendships that are made between our young people. After living in such a friendly environment, Clemente’s cycle of isolation was eventually broken.

“I remember there was one staff member who was always there for me. She’d always come and ask how I’m doing. Then, little by little, she helped me to open up.”

– Clemente

While at Mercy Home, Clemente was able to work on becoming independent, a goal which he had had for some time despite his debilitating anxiety. He lived in a setting within our Home that focused on helping young adults adjust to life after secondary school and foster independence and responsibility.

His peers have gone on to pursue associate degrees, full-time employment, bachelor’s degrees, and even advanced degrees. But Mercy Home recognizes that not everyone’s path is linear. Not everyone’s story follows the high school to college to full time employment narrative that many expect. We help individuals in this program to overcome challenges that have halted their progress. Difficulties often include homelessness, financial insecurity, addiction, or other challenges that have threatened their ability to be independent.

Clemente, too, benefited from the efforts Mercy Home coworkers make for our young people to reach whatever goals they establish for themselves. For Clemente, these goals were to live independently, which he now does, and to finish his education, which he now has.

“I would never imagine me being where I am now because I couldn’t really do a lot of stuff for myself [before coming to Mercy Home],” Clemente said.

Taking Center Stage

Adorned in navy -blue gowns with red accents, a procession of DePaul University graduates, including Clemente, filed through the crowded auditorium. With each name called, the eyes of thousands were directed on each graduate receiving their diploma and their moment of being the star of the graduation- day spectacle.

“That was that was a moment I’m never going to forget,” Clemente said. “It was very emotional for my whole family and everybody. It was a good day because I’m the first one in my entire family to get a degree.”

Moments like these used to come with a pit of dread deep in Clemente’s chest, holding him back from ever stepping into the spotlight.

Clemente walks across the stage at his DePaul graduation

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Clemente was energized to keep moving forward. He hoped to secure a position where he could challenge himself as an employee and utilize what he’d learned in the classroom in order to make an immediate impact on a company.

Thanks to Mercy Home’s corporate partnerships in the Chicago area, the uncertainty of Clemente’s post-graduate plans was made clearer. For weeks, Mercy Home coworkers helped Clemente to secure interviews and pursue open positions. Still, Clemente had to show up and take the stage all on his own. And that’s exactly what he did.

Today, Clemente is a respected member of the Hyatt Hotel’s housekeeping department in downtown Chicago. Each day, the young man who could hardly leave his room leads a large team of hotel staff. 

“I am an office coordinator for the housekeeping department and we’re in charge of managing over 200 employees …. It is a very stressful job, but I see it as a growing opportunity,” Clemente said. “Mine is the biggest department in the entire hotel.”

The Hyatt in downtown Chicago is the largest and most visited hotel in the city of Chicago, the third largest city in America. Knowing this, Clemente is confident that his experience at Hyatt can take him anywhere.

“And if I’m able to get this down, I’m going to be able to get hired anywhere,” he said. 

These days, after work, Clemente is also proud to support himself in his very own apartment, living independently of his parents and Mercy Home.

So, on the day of Clemente’s graduation, he basked in the glory of his achievements as he walked proudly across the graduation stage. He himself is surprised at the progress he has made. And according to Clemente, he has Mercy Home to thank.

“Without Mercy Home, I don’t know if I would’ve ended up where I am now,” he said.

“Without Mercy Home, I don’t know if I would’ve ended up where I am now.”

– Clemente

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