A Safe Place

We are in the midst of an historic time, a time of a pandemic that has required extraordinary sacrifice from every American. COVID-19 has strained our health system and our economy, and has forced us indoors to “shelter in place.” For Alyse R., this shelter in place is a better alternative than living on the streets with her eight-year-old son, JT.

Diagnosed with autism at a young age, JT is a pleasant youngster who is non-verbal, and who is used to attending a special education class with lessons designed for him. Sheltering in place at Saint John’s has changed this situation, to a degree, as JT now has a “tablet” and activities he can do on his own while at Saint John’s. Alyse says they are getting used to “social distancing” and to staggered meal times and the isolation of always staying on site. JT has adjusted well and enjoys being around other children. Alyse has worked hard to earn the privilege of weekend days off-site, but cannot take advantage of them now. She knows that time will come soon enough, so she remains patient and thankful for all that Saint John’s has done for her and her son.

In and out of sobriety for over 22 years, Alyse had a childhood wrought with abuse. She knew well enough that she could not put JT through the same experience. Sober for JT’s early years, Alyse slipped back into drug and alcohol addiction when JT’s stepfather left them. Wise enough to see that she was not able to fight her addiction at that time, she placed JT with her mother – not an ideal situation but better than having JT on the street with her. She visited JT when her mother allowed it, but in a devastating turn of events, Alyse’s mother accused her of elder and child abuse, landing Alyse in jail (charges were later dropped due to lack of proof). Alyse reached out to CPS to intervene, and they subsequently removed JT from Alyse’s mother’s custody upon confirmation of her history of child abuse during Alyse’s own upbringing. JT was then placed in foster care while Alyse entered and successfully completed rehab.

From that point on, the story only gets better. Alyse completed a 12-step program and has served as a mentor and supporter to others at Saint John’s by engaging in both AA and NA meetings. Since entering Saint John’s, she has completed 400 hours in the Employment Training Program at Plates, and is now employed full time at Corti Brothers Market. She is earning credits toward her high school diploma while simultaneously taking vocational classes to become a truck driver, and she is on track for graduation from Saint John’s Employment Training Program this year. More importantly, she has earned the right to have JT back with her. He joined her at Saint John’s in January, and she feels fulfilled and happy.

“I was empty without JT; God has given him back to me for a reason,” reflects Alyse. “I am thankful for all that Saint John’s has done for me and JT. I am really, really lucky to be here.”

Sheltering in place is not a bad thing – if it means you and your little one are safe and moving toward a brighter future. Maybe, too, the letters that Alyse wrote to Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres will be answered; Alyse would be a perfect candidate for their stories of success! 

By Ellen Gemma
Guest Blogger and Volunteer
Former Asst. Principal, Jesuit High School
Former Principal, St. John the Evangelist School 

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