Keysha, 23, first came to Union-Snyder CAA in March 2018 for help with obtaining her GED to pursue a career in nursing. Adopted into a Mennonite family as a baby, she was raised in a home that prioritized work and family over education; her formal education stopped at 8th grade when it was time to enter the workforce. Keysha had no plans to attend college or build a career for herself. “The only expectation for me was to settle down and begin having kids at 18 or 19 years old like everyone else,” she commented.
Furthermore, Keysha’s unique childhood experience led to a psychological disorder that prevented her from forming a close bond with her parents. At a young age, she began acting out and rebelling against her family, which severely damaged their relationship. At the age of 21, Keysha became involved in an abusive relationship. By this time, she had been kicked out of her home and her relationship with her family had been dissolved. Without any community or resources to support her, she moved to Colorado as a means to escape the domestic violence. Within a year, Keysha found herself living back in Pennsylvania; still without community, she became homeless and lived in her car for several weeks.
Eventually, she found out about a local women’s shelter and quickly moved in. She started attending church by the invitation of a woman from the shelter. Finally, Keysha found the community she longed for after so many years. “I just fell in love with the people I met at this church,” she remarked, with a smile.
When she was invited to attend a mission trip to Cyprus through Youth with a Mission (YWAM) by a close friend from her church, Keysha knew it was her calling to go. With only $18 in her bank account at the time, she raised $10,000 in just a few months to fund the trip. “I was determined to go. I called everyone I knew to donate. My first-grade teacher sent me $200, an anonymous donor gave me $1,000; even my dad, who I was not on speaking terms with, reached out to me randomly one day with the feeling I needed money and sent me a check. It was my ‘God moment’ – this trip would change me.”
Keysha spent the first 5 months of her trip in Kentucky, where she received training with her peers and did various outreach with the community. From there, she spent 2 months in Cyprus doing street outreach and volunteering at a Syrian refugee camp. At the camp, she helped to care for the families and provide support to parents, specifically mothers who were seeking basic parenting help. “Many of the moms at the camp didn’t know how to nurse their babies. They were given small stipends to purchase food for their families, but they were spending the majority of this money on formula. By educating them about breastfeeding, they were able to make their money last longer on other important needs for their family.”
This experience confirmed for Keysha that she wanted to dedicate her career to helping others. One of her many goals for herself is to attend a midwifery school after LPN school so that she can help other children and mothers that may also be traumatized by the effects of early childhood experiences as she was.
Back at the shelter, she shared her experience and newfound goals with her friends. She was encouraged to enroll in Union-Snyder CAA’s Adult Education program by a friend who was also taking classes at the time. Skeptical, Keysha took her advice and sought out education support. “When I first started coming to CAA, I didn’t feel good about myself. Although I had a life changing experience with YWAM, I still felt hindered by my mental health and coping with the abuse I’d gone through,” she remembered.
It didn’t take long for Keysha to start making friends with the other customers at CAA. She worked closely with CAA staff member, Karen, and AmeriCorps member, Sarah, who helped her stay focused on her goals and prioritize her school work. Recently, Keysha got the results back from her first round of HISET testing on Language Arts/Reading/Writing/Math and celebrated with staff when she found out that she passed with flying colors. “One of my most memorable moments at CAA so far is when Karen hugged me after finding out that I passed my tests. That made me feel really special,” Keysha remarked.
When asked how CAA has helped Keysha over the past 4 months, she replied: “It’s helped me a lot. I came here with a long list of goals to accomplish for myself, and I’ve already crossed off 10 since coming. All of the support I received here has been incredible.” Keysha’s list of accomplished goals include things like going to counseling on a regular basis, staying more consistent with her medication, and managing her budget as she builds up savings. She has been working at Almond Tree Senior Solutions for the past 3 months and loves her job. She’s well on her way to earning her degree, and comes to Union-Snyder CAA every day to study for her social studies and science tests, which she’ll take in September.
Sarah, Union-Snyder CAA’s AmeriCorps member and mentor to Keysha, fondly commented on her progress: “It’s just really cool to see someone that’s coming here for themselves. For most of her life, Keysha has done things for other people; coming here means that she acknowledges that she’s worth something. I’m so impressed by the progress she’s made on her mental health over the past few months and I’m confident that she’s going to find success.