“I was eighteen years old, pregnant, and homeless, when I first met my Step By Step case manager, at a library in downtown Seattle. I was feeling overwhelmed, unsure of my future, and unprepared to become a mom. I was determined to keep my baby, but I needed help.”
I first met with Kareena at a library, in Seattle. At the time, she was eighteen years old, pregnant, and homeless. She was feeling overwhelmed, unsure of her future, and unprepared to become a mom. She was determined to keep her baby, but she needed help.
After over 21 years working as a Behavioral Health Specialist and a case manager with Step By Step, I have grown used to seeing and experiencing the huge barriers to hope and health that many of the women we work with are facing. I also oversee our housing program, so I work with some of the most vulnerable women and children we serve. I have learned that one of the most valuable things that I can do for the women I work with is to help them to see and recognize their strengths and potential.
As I sat in that library and listened to Kareena tell me about her story, it was easy to see her many strengths and huge potential.
When she was young, Kareena’s family home had burned down. Her single mother of seven was already in foreclosure on the house, and their situation quickly spiraled. She ended up living with and being raised by her grandmother, but the home environment was not a clean and safe place.
In spite of the challenges she faced growing up, Kareena made a lot of positive choices that put her on a path to success. She chose not to surround herself with people that would pressure her to make poor choices or handle stress in negative ways. She worked hard and focused on her education. In High School, she took the initiative to enroll herself in a Running Start program. By the time she turned eighteen, she had graduated with both her High School diploma and an Associate Degree, and she was working on her Bachelor Degree. She was on a fast track to success.
It was not long after that she found out she was pregnant.
She knew that she could not bring her baby home to the environment she was living in. About a month into her pregnancy, she took everything she owned and moved out.
She started sleeping at friend’s houses or in her boyfriend’s car, but her living situation was volatile. She found out about Step By Step, when she went to a local WIC office. She saw a bunch of pamphlets with information about local resources, and she said she just started calling all the numbers, and one of them was for Step By Step.
Kareena later told me that one of the most impactful things about our time together was my reassurance that she could do it. At our first visit, she said I asked a million questions and that some of the things I asked her not even her closest friend knew the answers to. But, she recognized that I was there to help and went way out of her comfort zone. At our second visit, we talked about some housing options. At our third, I met with her and the father of her baby.
Just a few weeks after our meeting at the library, I was able to get her into Step By Step’s housing program. A local church that partners with our program owned an apartment, and they had offered it to us for use as a transitional housing option. Kareena was able to move in, and she was excited to finally have a safe and stable place of her own.
This little apartment allowed Kareena to stay focused and keep moving forward. She was working hard and in school full time. She was hopeful for her future and determined to be a good mom and provide well for her baby.
In August, she delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl. She said she felt an incredible amount of accomplishment, love, and a huge sense of peace. After having her baby, she said she felt like, if she could get through that, she could get through anything.
I am so proud of Kareena’s determination to stay committed to her goals. She continued going to college throughout her pregnancy. Then, just five weeks after she had her baby, she went back to finish her degree. She figured out how to commute over an hour to college both ways, and she even figured out how to keep breastfeeding her baby.
She continues to amaze me with her determination to go after resources and figure things out. For Kareena, the biggest thing she needed was just someone to help her fill in the gaps and address her barriers to success, so she could keep moving in the right direction.
When Kareena’s baby was just a few months old, the same church that had offered us use of their apartment approached us about a house they owned, wondering if we might be able to use it, as well, for our housing program. The rent the church needed to charge would have been too much for one of our moms to afford, and the home wasn’t laid out well for multiple families. It was also in need of quite a few repairs and renovations.
We began brainstorming the feasibility of fixing it up and establishing a small daycare facility, as part of a fledgling project to provide childcare for some of our working moms. One thing led to another, and Kareena stepped up to propose running the business. She and her family would live in the house and become a family home child care provider.
The next few months completely amazed me. Our Step By Step family of staff, volunteers, donors, and community partners rallied together to transform the house, to support Kareena’s family and goals. A donor fronted the cost for renovations and repairs. We had numerous work parties out at the house for demo days and cleaning. We had volunteers going over for a few hours on their evenings and weekends to clean out outbuildings, pull weeds, mow the lawn, and sweep, scrape, and scrub endless amounts of dust and dirt out of that house. Kareena helped pick out colors and paint rooms; and, in a short amount of time, the house was transformed into a welcoming home.
Kareena moved into the home on June 1st, and she is close to obtaining her business license. In the future, she will be one of our childcare partners and offer care for a few of the moms in our onsite job training program, which is just 2.5 miles from their location.
At Step By Step, we want to help support women in not only having healthy babies but also working to provide for those babies and reach a place of self-sufficiency and stability. We were excited to be able to help mobilize resources and community support, to help Kareena take this next step in her journey.
Kareena is now married and her baby girl is 10 months old. She is hoping to start her business in September. She credits her hard work, perseverance, and faith in God for giving her the strength to stay positive and reach her goals. In spite of all of her accomplishments, she said she is most proud of the fact that she has achieved the family she always wanted. Her baby girl has two parents in one home, something Kareena never had growing up, and her environment is positive, safe, and healthy. She says having her baby has been a huge blessing in her life.
In the future, Kareena and her husband want to be successful running their own business and to someday own their own home. I don’t know what her future will look like, but I do know two things. I know she can do it. And, I know her Step By Step family will be there to cheer her on and support her, every step of the way.