Vanessa Finds Her Groove—In School and Beyond

Vanessa Finds Her Groove—In School and Beyond

Every day after school, 16-year-old Vanessa clocked in as a cashier at a dollar store—a part-time job she took to help her mom pay the bills. She kept her textbooks under the register and, between customers, she would try to catch up on homework. But doing so in fits and starts made it hard to concentrate. She rarely completed her assignments and always felt behind.

Vanessa’s dinner usually consisted of a bag of chips and a bottle of soda from the dollar store after finishing her evening shift. On the bus ride back to her apartment, where she lived with her mother, Vanessa tried to do more homework. But the bumpy ride made it hard to read and write. When she started to feel dizzy and nauseous from motion sickness, she would close her books and listen to music. 

In many ways, Vanessa’s work was just getting started when she came home. Her mother, who struggled with depression and substance abuse, worked the overnight shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. She slept most of the day, woke in the late afternoon, and usually left the apartment cluttered with dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and trash. Vanessa was expected to clean it all up. 

“I love my mom,” Vanessa said. “She’s all I got, so I took it upon myself to take care of her and the apartment. If I didn’t, no one else would.”

When Vanessa finished tidying up the apartment, she was exhausted. Yet, her homework still loomed. She did her best to stay alert, but very often she would wake up in the morning with her school books open on her lap after falling asleep on the couch. Her alarm clock was usually her mother coming home drunk and crashing around the apartment. 

At school, Vanessa’s teachers took notice of her declining grades and personal appearance, which grew more disheveled as the year went on. It appeared that she wasn’t taking care of herself, so they alerted the school’s social worker. Vanessa was relieved to finally tell a responsible adult about how messy her home life had become. The social worker was alarmed at what she heard, so she scheduled a meeting with Vanessa and her mother and told them about Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. 

girl sitting in library and smiling

“When I moved in, that first week was like a dream,” Vanessa said. “I had warm, home-cooked meals, a nice bed, and a clean room of my own where I could keep my stuff and do my homework. I’d never had that before.”

But Vanessa worried about who would take care of her mother. Fortunately, Mercy Home helped put her mind at ease. Our Home provided resources for a substance abuse treatment program and, during family therapy sessions, Vanessa and her mother outlined ways they could improve their lives.

Feeling reassured about the positive strides her mother was taking, Vanessa finally felt comfortable focusing on herself. As her nutrition and sleep improved, so did her mental health. 

“I felt refreshed,” she said. “I used to feel like I was dragging all this weight behind me. But now I feel light and free. Mercy Home really helped lighten my load.”

With more free time to study, Vanessa’s grades started to rebound, but she still needed help maintaining her focus. Thankfully, our one-on-one tutors worked with Vanessa to make slight adjustments to her routine and help her stay on task. 

“Before I came to Mercy Home, my homework and study habits were sloppy because I never had time,” she said. “But my tutors helped me get organized so I could stay caught up on assignments.”

Once her school and home life felt more in control, Vanessa found she had time for extracurricular activities—something she’d never done before.

“I always wanted to take a dance class, but I never could since I was always working or taking care of my mom,” she said. “I recently started taking a ballet class and I love it. It really soothes me and helps me express myself.”

Thanks to the generous support of good friends like you, Vanessa not only has the confidence to reach her academic goals, she has the courage to step out on the dance floor of life. We are so grateful that you helped her find her step. 

Please note: Because we care deeply about protecting our children’s privacy, the names and certain identifying details in this story have been changed.

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