Success stories from the youth we serve.
Sometimes, all that stands in the way of success, is someone to believe in you. We see that all the time at Covenant House New Jersey. Here are just a few examples.
Donneal was born in Grenada and arrived in the US when he was 4 years old. He was reunited with his mother who had immigrated a few years earlier and settled in Brooklyn.
Eventually, his mother married and they relocated to New Jersey. Donneal’s high school in Newark was filled with gangs and violence and very little support or encouragement from teachers. School seemed like a waste of time to Donneal and he stopped going his junior year. His mother wanted him to work and when he didn’t get a job, she kicked him out of the house. Donneal couch surfed at friends’ houses for about two weeks until his stepfather heard about Covenant House and suggested Donneal look into the program.
Donneal imagined Covenant House would be dirty and unsafe like other shelters and didn’t want any part of this idea. But when people stopped offering their couches, Donneal ran out of options. It was either the violent and dangerous streets of Newark or Covenant House.
Once Donneal walked through the doors of Covenant House he realized he was not in a typical adult shelter. It was clean, safe and he loved the staff. They were always willing to help and he could tell they really wanted what was best for him. He met young people that had experienced similar circumstances. The staff helped him obtain his GED and get his state ID - two things he really needed to get a job. Although everything was going really well, after 6 months, Donneal got tired of the rules at Covenant House and left to go back home. Without the structure he had at Covenant House, Donneal became complacent and his mother gave him an ultimatum to go back to work or leave. Donneal decided to go back to Covenant House instead. He knew the doors would be open for him and that they would give him another chance.
Donneal was welcomed back as long as he was ready to keep focused and follow his case plan. This time he knew he could do it. Donneal enrolled in Essex County College and got a job at the mall. Working and going to school wasn’t easy and Donneal had his ups and downs until he finally had to drop out of school to keep things together. Despite the setbacks he was committed to staying strong. He worked two jobs and moved into our Rites of Passage program. Miss Trish wrote him a recommendation letter to attend the Empower Program, a nonprofit IT organization. Donneal found out he loved the IT world and graduated in December, 2016. Donneal had enough money saved to buy a car and get his own apartment! Donneal was on his way to success and stability.
At 23 years old, Donneal is still living on his own and working full time at West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood. He will be re-enrolling at Essex County College soon to study Information Technology and hopes to get a job in the field once he graduates. “People are always willing to help you if you're willing to help yourself! Thanks to Covenant House, I know anything is possible through hard work and perseverance, and people who really care.”
Shantel moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was 17 in pursuit of the American Dream. Unfortunately, without a support system of family members, Shantel bounced around from house to house with no place to call home. While she was in college, she became pregnant and had to drop out. A friend told her about Covenant House and at 8 months pregnant she moved into our moms and babies program at Raphael’s Life House in Elizabeth. In December 2007, Shantel gave birth to a precious baby boy! Although she was thrilled to have a son and be living in a stable environment, she was very stressed. She couldn’t stay at RLH forever and the challenge of working, being a single parent, and having to find a place on her own got to be too great and Shantel had to make the hardest decision of her life. With a heavy heart, Shantel decided to send her son to live with her mother in Jamaica. Giving up her son caused Shantel to fall into a deep depression. It was the darkest time of her life.
Covenant House helped her to keep moving forward. She moved into our Rights of Passage program and continued to save money and focus on her goals. She secured a job at Newark Liberty Airport and participated in the SORA training to earn her security license. Within one month she was working full time in a security position at Newark Liberty Airport. Covenant House helped her apply for her citizenship through the “American Friends” program. The program waived all fees and she became an American citizen. She was on her way. Shantel continued working at the airport, saving money and in 2012 moved into her own apartment.
Committed to achieving success and making a life for herself and her son, Shantel interviewed for a flight attendant position with American Airlines. She went through a grueling unpaid
training process in Dallas working 5 days a week from 5 am–11 pm. It was exhausting and overwhelming and there were days she did not think she would finish the program. Shantel powered through and after 7 ½ long weeks she passed with flying colors! The culmination of everything that occurred over the last seven years gave her a feeling of accomplishment in reaching her ultimate goal.
Today, at 29 years old, Shantel continues to work for American Airlines and has traveled to more countries than she can remember. She lives in her own apartment, has continued saving
money and even opened a 401K. Shantel’s mother and son come for visits and she is helping her mom apply for a green card. Shantel continues to work hard, with her son always close to her heart. Her goal is to have her family reunited living in America.
Covenant House came into Shantel’s life at a time when her world was crashing down around her. She felt lost and alone. She is not sure where she would have been if not for the love, encouragement and support of Covenant House. “Covenant House gave me the tools to get my life back on track but it was up to me, to be the one to utilize them”. Shantel continues to soar and we are all so proud of her.
“I grew up in Newark. My mother was a drug addict and I never met my father. I lived with my mother who could not take care of herself or our family. Often there was no food or lights on. The corner bodega would allow me to buy food on credit and pay them back with interest at the end of the month. I would run the streets on most school nights until 2AM… I was basically responsible for myself with no adult supervision. I never celebrated a holiday or my birthday. At 9 years old DYFS was called to investigate my home situation. Temporary custody was given to my aunt after it was determined my mother was unstable and unable to care for me.
My mother continued to live with us for a while but eventually disappeared for years. As a little boy, I remember checking the obituaries to see if my mom had died. As I entered the teenage years, I became angry and rebellious…and began getting involved with gangs. Confused, with no direction and not being able to figure out my purpose, street life became a normal way of living. I was robbed at gunpoint several times. Looking back I was lucky I never landed in jail or dead. At 16, I learned where my mother was and reconnected with her. I began to live with her and her boyfriend in one room. It was really uncomfortable. Eventually her boyfriend kicked me out. With nowhere to go I stayed at friend’s homes and even had to sleep on park benches. While still managing to stay in high school, I was eventually told about Covenant House by my high school basketball coach.
After all my options ran out, I went to Covenant House. I remember I cried myself to sleep the first night. I did not want to live in a homeless shelter. I continued to live at the crisis center in Newark while attending Weequake High School. Later, I moved to the Rights of Passage program and graduated high school while in the program. The staff became the family I never had. Meghan provided me with the love of a mother. LaMar gave me the guidance and support a father would give a son and Auntie Ty, the fun aunt everyone wishes they had. I don’t know how I would have survived or where I’d be today without each one of them helping me.
On June 10, 2008, I received my acceptance letter from Alabama State University. I was so proud and never would have believed I would be going to college, though I did know I always wanted a better life. I actually had more friends in the cemetery than in college. It was a reality that haunted me. LaMar attended college orientation with me and the rest of my Covenant House family made sure I had everything I needed to begin my new journey. I continued to receive support, guidance and great care packages from Meghan while living at school.
During the summer I would return and live at Rights of Passage once more. After my financial aid was cut I began my sophomore year at Montclair State University living on campus. I played basketball for 3 years and was chosen to be the team captain for my commitment to the game and my team. I spent summers working at children’s camps, because I really have a love to work with little kids. I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and Health and am proud to say I graduated May 2013. I already have received my first job offer and soon will be moving into Covenant House’s Supportive Apartment Program.
I often share my journey with my peers and have spoken at many college events. It is my desire to motivate youth and encourage them to stay focused and disciplined. I would love to play or work for the NBA someday. I know two things for sure…. On graduation day my Covenant House family was there cheering me on just as they have done for so long and I am one of the lucky ones … I beat the odds.”
“I am 22 years old and originally from Jersey City, NJ. I have been a part of the Covenant House family for over 3 years. Growing up was challenging for me. My mother was addicted to drugs, and my father wasn’t around. My mother has eight children, and didn’t take care of any of us. I grew up in three different foster homes until my Great Aunt took in me and one of my brothers. She passed away when I was 9 years old, and then I bounced around again.
When I was 14 years old, I moved in with my oldest sister who had two young daughters that I was left to care for, so I was basically a mother of two at the age of 14. When I was 18 I had a mild stroke because all of the stress of balancing home and school. Having that stroke was really traumatic, but in all the madness, I still managed to graduate high school with a 3.2 GPA.
After graduation, I bounced around some more, trying to find my way. Eventually I made it to Hudson County Community College. After all of my housing options fell through, I ended up homeless, sleeping on a bench in the park and still trying to go to classes. It was the most horrifying experience of my life. I was scared, felt all alone and was truly worried that someone would hurt me. When I couldn’t keep it up any longer, I went for help and was referred to Covenant House in Newark. I will never forget the feeling of hopelessness as I slept on that cold, hard bench. In many ways that haunting memory has kept me motivated to move forward.
I had never been to Newark, but it turns out that coming to Covenant House was the best decision I have ever made. I started working and then moved to Rights of Passage. The staff taught me how to cook, clean, budget… everything I needed to take care of myself. I saved almost every dollar I earned and now have $10,000 in the bank, which is a blessing because, when I came, I had nothing. I continued my studies at Hudson Community College studying early childhood education and am proud to say I graduated this past May. I also moved into my very first apartment which my friend Phyllis from Madison helped me to get started as I moved in. This fall I will be attending St. Elizabeth’s to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree, as I figure this is the best way to give others the childhood I never had.
Covenant House has given me the opportunity to meet so many special people. I am thankful to all the people that ensure that kids will never have to sleep in a park or on the street again, but instead get to fulfill their goals, dreams and the hope for a better tomorrow."