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.

Latricia’s Comeback Story – You Helped Latricia Find the Rainbow After the Storm

Latricia participating in a custodial maintenance training

Latricia grew up as an only child and from an early age her family noticed her gift for helping others. By the age of nine, Latricia was volunteering to spend her free evenings and weekends caring for her sick aunt. “I just liked helping older people,” she remembers. Latricia made it well known to her family that she would grow up to become a nurse.

By junior high school, Latricia was also a star athlete, excelling as the point guard on the basketball team, in track and field, and cheerleading for the football team. She was her family’s joy and no one could have predicted the devastation and trials that were just ahead.

“Why did THAT happen to me?”

Latricia at Graduation

When Latricia was 12 years old, her family moved from North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey. It was there that, at the age of 13, Latricia was sexually assaulted by a distant relative. “Immediately everything was different,” she recalls. Her passion for helping others turned into constant anxiety. She stopped playing basketball, running track, and cheerleading. Within a year of the assault, Latricia began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. A young teen, incapacitated by her trauma, she spent countless sleepless nights asking the question, “Why did THAT happen to me?”

“I was at my bottom. So many demons. I just wanted to stop, so I went to get treatment and things started to turn around.”

At 16, Latricia dropped out of school and the next 30 years of her life were heavily influenced by substance use. During those times, there were joys, like the birth of her daughters, but there was always great instability.  At times she had a job and at other times she didn’t. At times she had a place to stay and at times she was homeless.

For the sake of her family, Latricia finally decided to take a stand and face her past. “September 8th, 2015,” Latricia remembers, “I was at my bottom. So many demons. I just wanted to stop, so I went to get treatment and things started to turn around.” In her treatment program, she heard about ACE and felt moved to sign up.

“At ACE, I learned how to use the computer.”

Latricia with a bright smile at an ACE event

“At ACE, I learned how to use the computer” she recalls, “how to interview, how to have enough patience to go out and clean New York City streets.  ACE helps a person that’s down on their luck and doesn’t know which direction they’re going.”

Latricia spent four months building her experience in ACE’s initial program, Project Comeback. She attended classes, worked on sanitation crews, and met with ACE job developers to find employment leads. She began going on interviews and in July 2016 she landed a job as a housekeeper at a hotel in New Jersey. A week after becoming employed, Latricia used the money she saved from ACE’s work experience training to move into her own apartment.

Most important of all, Latricia is now restoring the bonds with her daughters and mother that were strained during her years of instability. “My kids are grown now,” she says. “I just had a grandbaby. At ACE, I kept a smile on my face because I knew that if I stuck with it, something good was going to happen. There’s going to be a rainbow after the storm.

Elbert Copeland, ACE Quality Control Officer – In The News

Elbert Copeland, ACE Crew Supervisor

If you see Elbert Copeland out wearing a red uniform, he’s probably inspecting the streets to make sure they’ve been cleaned.

Copeland is a supervisor for ACE Programs for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization that trains and employs homeless New Yorkers.

He started out in the field sweeping and cleaning the streets, then the organization hired him to do “quality control.” “I just go around and make sure everything is nice, tidy and clean,” he said, “make sure there’s no complaints and everybody’s happy.”

Copeland said he was “down in the trenches” prior to getting in touch with ACE’s program.
“It put me back on the right track and gave me a new outlook,” he said. “It gave me a completely different way of thinking and train of thought.”

In the three years since he’s worked with ACE, Copeland considers himself a more compassionate person. His favorite part of the job is that he gets to see all of the different communities in New York City.

“Queens by far is the most complicated only because you can walk down one block and be somewhere else totally,” he said. “It’s a little confusing, but I’ll get it.”
Copeland, who now lives in Richmond Hill, said businesses often come out to thank him and his team for their work. Once residents and business owners see them a few times, they recognize their service.

“When you get one little thank you, it moves you on,” he said. “It keeps you going.
“We really try to do our best to change people’s lives,” he added. “You have to have something different you’re aiming for.”

When asked how long he plans to work for ACE, Copeland chuckled and said, “Until the day of my demise.”

Raymond’s Comeback Story – I Just Know I’m a Loving Person

Raymond, 54, has been employed for 9 months and in his own apartment for 3.

At the age of 29, while serving a prison sentence, Raymond realized he was suffering from decades old trauma. From the time he can remember up until 11 years of age, Raymond lived in an extremely hostile environment, and only years later did he realize the effect it had had on him. His younger brother’s father had abused their mother regularly, in front of Raymond.

“My brothers were young,” he remembers. “They didn’t have to see my mom get violently harmed. It really played a part on me. I wasn’t very effective in school and I didn’t know what to do. When I look back. I remember I was preoccupied with finding a way to help my mother—to protect and save her. When I explain to certain people the actual details of the violence that went on and how consistent it was, they are astonished.”

 “I was preoccupied with finding a way to help my mother—to protect and save her.”

Despite the traumatic environment, Raymond was a dutiful and loving older brother. His mother worked a morning and evening shift and in between the shifts she would come home to tell Raymond what he needed to do to take care of his brothers. He fed and bathed them and cleaned the house on a daily basis, all before he was even nine years old.

Into his teenage years, despite a positive relationship with his brothers, the trauma had placed a distance between him and his mother. “I would rather be on the streets than be home,” Raymond recalls. “I had no dreams. I had no hope. I was hurting constantly, I was just hurting and hurting and I didn’t know how to say it, or if I did say it, it didn’t seem that anyone cared.”

In his 30’s and 40’s Raymond had a son and a daughter, whom he loves dearly, but he still was having major struggles and setbacks, bouncing between housing and homelessness and coming in and out of jail for extended periods of time. Despite what the world told him, Raymond clung to his belief that he was a loving person. “I had acquired this long criminal history,” he remembers, “and judges and district attorneys and lawyers are saying, ‘He’s a menace to society.’ And I’m saying to myself, I’m nowhere near what you’re saying I am, but I can’t make anyone see. I just know I’m a kind and loving, affectionate person, but my experiences that I’ve been forced to be a part of have played a major part on my demeanor and my rearing. I had to survive.”

“I’m saying to myself, I’m nowhere near what you’re saying I am, but I can’t make anyone see.”

Raymond in his work uniform.

In January 2016, at the age of 54, Raymond came to ACE from a substance use treatment program. He recognized a number of personal barriers were holding him back. “I wasn’t confident about having much success with my criminal history,” he recalls. “I’m not very computer literate. I had fallen off with my education, my reading and math.”

With a full schedule of classes and work experience training, Raymond redoubled his commitment to achieving his goals. Raymond says, “I had to clean the streets. I wasn’t particularly crazy about it, but I cleaned the streets and I did a job like I would do in my home. It gave me something to look forward to financially and I was able to give my daughter and my son a few dollars every week.”

Through ACE’s community internship program, Raymond balanced a maintenance internship at a local church with his schedule of classes. The staff there was so impressed with his work and attitude that in July 2016, after 6 months in ACE’s initial program, they offered him a full-time position. Just three months after accepting the job, Raymond had saved enough money to move into his own apartment. “I’m content with what I’m doing right now,” he says. It’s keeping me emotionally alive, keeping me spiritually alive, it’s keeping me mentally alive. I’m happy right now. “

Raymond details his journey At ACE’s Graduation Ceremony.

Raymond has now been employed for nine months and in his own apartment for six months. He has a great relationship with his 20 year-old son and is back in his 10 year old daughter’s life, rebuilding bonds. He counts himself fortunate and is incredibly thankful to everyone who helped him get here by supporting ACE.

“I thank God for you and for this organization”

“I was in the cell and I was praying to God, if I could just walk down the block again. And here it is, not even a year later and I have my own apartment. I have a job and am back in mainstream society. I wonder if you truly know what you have done. I thank God for you and I thank God for this organization.”

Kendall’s Comeback Story – My First Job in 20 Years

Kendal, Project Comeback Graduate

Kendall was adopted at birth. He grew up in a loving home in Richmond, Virginia. He and his family were regulars at church and his parents were, in his words, “big on work ethic and education.” Kendall describes his upbringing as healthy, but as he got into his late teenage years he and his friends were introduced to alcohol and marijuana. “I went wrong,” Kendall says, “when I decided I liked the feeling of drinking and smoking more than getting an education and working to further my future.”

Kendall had some odd jobs after high school and had a son in his twenties. He loved his son more than anything but couldn’t balance substance use with the responsibilities of adulthood. After missing a court date in Richmond in 1996, he doubled down on his troubled lifestyle. Rather than accept a mandatory three to four-month jail sentence for missing court, Kendall got on a bus out of town. With that begin twenty years of living on street, using, and just getting by.

Reflecting on those years Kendall says, “You let the world pass you by. You’re basically living off the crumbs that society throws away. You look back, and you’re old. You’ve got aches and pains. You haven’t built anything, haven’t saved anything. You have regrets.”

Almost twenty years passed. Kendall visited home once or twice, but his family, knowing he wasn’t in a good place, wasn’t ready to welcome him back. “I missed my father’s funeral,” he recalls. “I wasn’t even aware of it and his whole side of the family lost respect for me. In 2014, Kendall decided enough was enough and he was going to get clean. He joined a treatment program and started to build momentum. In July 2016, Kendall was referred to ACE. He remembers those first days working on ACE maintenance crews, “They put me to work. My body wasn’t used to it. It took a while, but I was glad to have the opportunity and now I thank God every day.”

After almost three months in ACE’s initial program, Project Comeback, Kendall got called into the ACE Job Developer’s office. A local restaurant had reached out looking to fill a position as a porter. The Job Developer wanted to send Kendall for the interview. Kendall was nervous but he went for the interview and got the job. “It’s nothing fancy,” he says, “but I am very happy with my job. It’s the first job I’ve had in twenty years.

Now that he is stable for the first time in years, Kendall is beginning to heal old wounds. “My family is still in Richmond. My son is all grown up and I am trying to patch things up. I’ve burnt a lot of bridges, but I think I can repair the ones with my family. I really consider myself lucky. Thank you.”