Locked Up in Rikers Island at 14 – Erik’s Story in His Own Words

My name is Erik. I grew up in a poor neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1970’s. My father was an alcoholic, so my mother raised me by herself. It was rough for me back then.

“When I was 14, I got locked up for selling drugs. I was sent to Rikers Island.”

Erik receives his OSHA certification

I started drinking and smoking when I was 13. It’s hard, as a child, to know what’s right and what’s wrong, which is what I was—a child. I didn’t understand that being a productive part of the community meant you worked hard and paid taxes. I wish I knew that. I had no one to teach me back then.

When I was 14, I got locked up for selling drugs. I was sent to Rikers Island. It was scary. On one hand I wondered, Am I going to make it through this? On the other hand I thought, If I make it through this, everyone on the street will respect me. I was confused, with no one to guide me. After serving eight months, I was released and given five years probation.

“I took the time to sit down and work things out. I thought, Do I want to die in here?”

I was arrested several more times over the next few years and found myself in and out of prison. It’s hard to do the right thing in prison. In society, if you break the law, you’re an outsider. In prison, if you do the right thing, you’re an outsider.

Erik participates in a mock interview

Finally, finding myself locked up on yet another drug charge, I realized something had to change. I made a conscious decision to end the cycle. I took the time to sit down and work things out. I thought, Do I want to die in here? I realized how badly I was hurting my family, my daughter, myself. At last, I understood, I was hurting society. Selling drugs hurts people.

I was released from prison in 2016, but I didn’t have the trust of my family. My daughter wanted to help me but she was scared that I was going to go to prison again. She thought, He’s been to jail, he’s been to institutions, and only death is left for him. I needed something to show me the way.

In early 2017, a counselor at a New York City homeless shelter referred me to ACE. At ACE, it was like I had finally found myself. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, I didn’t feel like I was going to be judged. The people at ACE worked with me to build my confidence and that made me want to work harder. Some days, I worked so hard that my fingers hurt, but it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the community that I had hurt in the past, and I just worked really hard. It paid off because I eventually got hired as a full-time sanitation worker.

“I have a job, I have my own apartment, and I have my family back in my life.”

Erik speaks at Graduation

ACE has changed my life, it really has. I enjoy my job, and I like the people I work with. I wish the same for everyone who comes to ACE. If I can do it, anyone can do it. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I wake up every day and I thank God. I have a job, I have my own apartment, and I have my family back in my life. My daughter tells me, “Dad, keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working.” She’s really proud of me now.

It takes hard-work, dedication and courage to overcome the extreme circumstances that Erik faced. Partners like you make the entire journey to independence possible. As our city faces a crisis of homelessness, please help these men and women achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency by making a tax-deductible contribution today.

The Go-To Girl – Tenisha’s Comeback in Her Own Words

Tenisha graduated from ACE’s initial program in September of 2016 and has been employed for over a year

My name is Tenisha Sanders. I am a mother of three and a grandmother of three.

In my early years, I was a social butterfly. I spent a lot of time mixed up with the wrong people, places and things. The things those people were involved in, I thought would never affect me. But I was wrong.

On May 28th, 2010, I was walking to the cardiologist with my youngest daughter, when I was surrounded by six vehicles. The police jumped out and they said my name. They told me to put my hands behind my back and that I was under arrest.

I will never forget the look on my 11-month old daughter’s face. She just didn’t know what was going on. Her first birthday party was planned for the next day. It never happened. Those decisions cost me five years and six days of my life. From May 28th, 2010 until June 3rd, 2015 I was incarcerated.

“I will never forget the look on my 11-month old daughter’s face.”

Tenisha gives a speech at graduation

During the time I was away, I worked every day from 8:45 A.M. to 12:45 P.M. for 16 cents an hour. My only support was my family. My mother at this time was battling brain cancer, but she still remembered what was important to me, my birthday, special things I like to eat.

I lost so much. Material things you can get back 10 fold, but while I was incarcerated, I lost my mother to brain cancer. I lost my grandmother to liver disease. I wasn’t able to tell them I’m sorry and say my goodbyes. During this time, I also had to endure the foster care battle for my baby daughter.

After my release, I entered the city shelter system, and my case manager told me about ACE. I came to ACE in October 2015, five months after my release. At ACE, you receive educational classes, certifications, job search assistance, and hands-on work experience to get you used to being back in the workforce.

“I worked everyday from 8:45 A.M. to 12:45 P.M. for 16 cents an hour.” 

I started out and learned the ACE sanitation routes. It wasn’t really that hard, it was just a matter of motivating yourself. I got my work routine in order. People around the neighborhood started telling me ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ and I felt appreciated, it motivated me more. My supervisor, Steve, had me train people on the routes. It just felt good that he trusted me to show people what to do. Between my peers and the staff, it was like family.

Tenisha stops by the ACE Center for Workforce Development to inspire ACE participants

ACE set up an opportunity for me to be part of a 13-week internship program with a company called UNIFORM, where I had the experience of steaming, packing and shipping orders.

At the end of the internship, my boss at UNIFORM gave me a special t-shirt, which represented women dealing with domestic violence. The t-shirt says, “Today I am brave” and that spoke to me.

Today, I am brave.

During and after the internship, I continued classes and job searching at ACE, and I’m proud to say, On June 28th, 2016, I found employment at a hostel in New York City.

“Let me tell you something, as long as I have the strength in me to do it, and I am able to do it, I am going to do it.”

I started as a housekeeper and, in February 2017, I was promoted to Supervisor of Maintenance. I do everything at my job. I fix showers, I fix sinks, I fix doors and I clean. It’s not for everybody. My co-workers call me “the go-to girl”. Let me tell you something, as long as I have the strength in me to do it, and I am able to do it, I am going to do it.

Recently, I was talking to my oldest son. He told me, “Big baby”—he calls me Big Baby—he said, “I’m proud of you. You came home and in less than ten months, you got your own place and a job, and you are getting your baby girl back.”

Today, I’ve got my own one bedroom apartment, a full-time job, and a wonderful relationship with my children. I love it. I love my life.

It takes hard-work, dedication and courage to overcome the extreme circumstances that Tenisha faced. Partners like you make the entire journey to independence possible. As our city faces a crisis of homelessness, please help these men and women achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency by making a tax-deductible contribution today.

NBC 4 New York – ACE’s Sept. 2017 Graduation Ceremony

On Thursday, September 28th, over 150 supporters gathered for ACE’s Fall Graduation Ceremony at the ACE Center for Workforce Development, and honored the incredible men and women who have overcome homelessness and secured full-time employment. After months of classes, industry-specific trainings, and in-the-field work-experience, ACE’s 45 most recent graduates are now employed in full-time positions across sectors. At Graduation, these individuals inspired us by sharing some of their hardships and triumphs in their personal journey, and offered guidance to ACE’s current participants who are preparing themselves to become employed.

 

The graduates have now moved on from ACE’s initial program, Project Comeback, and are active in our employment after-care program, Project Stay. In Project Stay, we help our clients retain employment and increase their earning capacity. We commend each graduate for all that they’ve accomplished as they achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency, and thank each ACE supporter for the contribution they have made to every success.


Video courtesy of NBC 4 New York

Amy’s Comeback Story – Amy Overcomes Homelessness and Abuse to Start Her Family

ACE participants in the new Richard D. Kaplan ICT Career Lab

Amy is a smiling young woman in her mid twenties. If you ask her, she’ll tell you her childhood wasn’t that difficult. The details, though, tell a different story. Amy was raised by her grandmother and her aunt in Bronx, NY. “I grew up in a bad neighborhood, “ she remembers. “A lot of killings, a lot of drug activity. I saw a lot of craziness.”

When Amy was in high school her grandmother became ill. With her mother and father gone, and her aunt working long hours to support the family, Amy took on the responsibility of caring for her grandmother. “I didn’t want to see her suffer so much,” Amy recalls. “She always asked me to stay home and help her.” Amy started missing school on a daily basis to care for her grandmother. Eventually, this led to Amy dropping out of school to provide full-time care, at the age of 17.

One year later, in 2008, after a long struggle, Amy’s grandmother passed away. Amy was devastated by the loss. “My grandmother raised me. It’s still hard to think about that.”

“I didn’t want to see her suffer so much.” 

Inside the classroom at new headquarters, ACE Center for Workforce Development

In the years that followed Amy helped her aunt at home, caring for her young nephew. Her aunt had been financially supporting the family for Amy’s entire life. Amy wanted to start working and contributing financially, so in her early twenties she went back to school to get her GED. Unfortunately, she would not finish the program. Her aunt informed her that she was moving out of the Bronx and could no longer afford to house Amy. Without a job or a place to live, Amy checked into a homeless shelter.

“My grandmother raised me. It’s still hard to think about that.”

After several months in the shelter system, Amy’s case manager referred her to ACE. She immediately signed up and started making the most of everything that ACE had to offer. “I got real credentials from ACE, like my OSHA,” she says. “They helped me with my resume and coached me on my interviewing.” ACE also helped Amy through all the steps to renew her security guard license.

At the same time as things were looking up at ACE, Amy became romantically involved with a man who seemed to be kind and caring. He had a stable home, where he lived with his mother. A few months passed and they made the decision that Amy would move out of the shelter and into his apartment.

Amy maintained her progress at ACE,  gaining work experience sweeping streets and continuing in classes and trainings. After 3 months she started going on interviews and after four months she received good news: she had been hired as a security agent. “It felt great to get hired and earn a paycheck. My aunt was really happy.”

“It felt great to get hired and earn a paycheck.” 

ACE crew member keeping the streets of Long Island City clean

About the same time as being hired, Amy got life changing news. She found out she was pregnant. “I was scared to tell my family,” she recalls. “I thought they would be upset, but they were happy for me.”

This news, however, came at a time when her relationship was in a bad place. Tragically, over the course of their year-long relationship, her partner’s kind demeanor had changed. At first, she had noticed him becoming more and more aggressive, and then he became fully physically and verbally abusive.

“He was hitting me and cursing at me. He was so controlling, saying ‘I can throw you out anytime and you will be back on the streets.’ I was scared. He had thrown me down the stairs. Kicked me in the stomach. It was the most difficult time of my life.” Knowing the environment was too unsafe now that she was pregnant, Amy got out of the relationship.

With nowhere to go, Amy had to find time during the work day to make appointments to get her housing in order. She found a room to rent, but her job let her go because of the work she missed while searching.

Despite the setback, she refused to give up. Taking advantage of ACE’s lifelong support services, Amy met with ACE staff for follow up support, job search resources, interview attire donations, and even toy donations for her unborn child. Less than a month later, she found a full-time job in a new security position.

“I was scared to tell my family, I thought they would be upset, but they were happy for me.” 

After six months of exemplary work, Amy was granted maternity leave and had a healthy baby boy. “He loves people,” she says, “he is always laughing and smiling when he is meeting people. I still have my security job and I am raising this little one.”

Amy has now been employed consistently for over a year. “For those in the program now,” she says, “I know it’s difficult. Keep moving forward and keep going for your dreams. To the donors and friends that contributed to provide her with the opportunities at ACE, she says, “Thank you. Without you, ACE would not be possible. My biggest goal now is to go back to school, to become a nurse or aid, and show my son that his mom is dedicated to doing great things.”

It takes hard-work, dedication and courage to overcome the extreme circumstances that Amy faced. Partners like you make the entire journey to independence possible. As our city faces a crisis of homelessness, please help these men and women achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency by making a tax-deductible contribution today.