She made the choice to take a break from her toxic community and fight to get her kids back.
When Shaundreka enters a room with her three children between the ages of one and six, she does so with a quiet, commanding confidence.
One would never know that this calm presence is a far cry from the state she was in only a year ago. Today, a woman nearing 40, the Youngstown native says that she was just fifteen years old when she moved to Atlanta and her troubles started.
Atlanta is where she met the father of her six children and consequently her addiction. The man who was supposed to protect and love Shaundreka instead mentally and physically abused her. To cope with the pain, she turned to hard drugs.
“I was in a relationship with him and the drugs off and on for about 18 years,” she recalls.
Shaudreka tried to kick her addiction for nearly two decades, but the hold it had on her life was strong. Shaundreka’s mother and aunt took in her first three children, which she says, “made it easy for me to continuously be on the streets, because I was okay with being there sometimes, and when I got tired or the least little thing made me upset, I ran back to the streets.”
The final straw came when Shaundreka’s partner was incarcerated and the addiction took full control. Noticing that the children were in trouble, Shaundreka’s aunt offered to take the little ones for a night so that Shaundreka could get some space.
However, when she awoke the next day Shaudreka found a text from her father in Northeast Ohio. It was a picture of her three youngest, now hundreds of miles away.
“That’s when I realized that all this time I was in a depression, but I never knew it until I realized that they were gone, and that I was sad and that I was lonely. I realized I didn’t really want to be out on the streets.”
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Ready for Change...
When she arrived up north, Shaundreka’s father lovingly told her he would not release the kids to her care until she got clean. She started treatment at a facility where she could get help for addiction right away, and began calling Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center. Others in the program told her that this 166 bed long-term program ministry of The City Mission’s could take some time to get into – but that the wait was worth it, because they had private rooms for families.
In the meantime, Shaundreka threw herself into the addiction program with all she had.
“My plan was just to finish treatment, get my children, then go back home,” she shares. “The first weeks going without [my kids] allowed me to focus on me and what I was doing to me – I really wasn’t loving myself, and I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be.”
After a few months of hard work, Shaundreka’s three children were allowed to move into recovery housing with her. The space was tight, but they were together.
“We’ve been in smaller situations. There was a time there was the seven of us and we were in a loft hotel room. I knew I could make this work too,” she said.
Unfortunately, there were other limits to their housing. Shaundreka needed to attend her Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) classes for addiction counseling, but she didn’t have a daycare. So the program gave her 30 days to find a place for her kids to go during the day, or they were going to lose their spot.
Now ready to take full responsibility for her choices, Shaundreka remembers the headspace she was in at that time.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still had my dad, but I didn’t want to go back to family. But I’m willing to do anything, because at this point now, I’m not turning back. I’m not even looking back, I’m going forward.”
So Shaundreka started praying and calling Laura’s Home again. Finally, after weeks of requests to call back and several false starts with other work prep programs, The City Mission had a spot for her.
“I got whatever I could and I came here. I told myself I’m going to roll with the punches, because I’m supposed to be here.”
Through the classes at Laura’s Home, Shaundreka began to discover more about her potential than she ever thought possible. Touch of Reality allowed her to get in touch with her feelings after years of her mind and heart being clouded by drug abuse. Dialectical Behavior Therapy taught her to channel those feelings into healthy actions and reactions. And parenting classes showed her how to have appropriate expectations and care for her children.
“By me being ready for change, I had already started the process. [Laura’s Home] is going to help me finish it on up,” she says boldly. “I started learning how to be a better mother, to be more humble. The more I learned about me I knew what I had to get rid of.”
Owning Her Better Future
Shaundreka plans to be open about her struggles with her kids as they grow up, because she wants them to understand how even the smallest choices can take them down difficult roads. She believes that their time at Laura’s Home won’t only be a benefit to her future, but to the children as well.
“I’m praying that my kids will be totally successful. Going to church, God-fearing. That’s why I’m keeping them in church because then they’ll know no matter what, whenever things get complicated in their life they know where to run.”
When asked what’s different about Laura’s Home than other programs, Shaundreka describes a program that empowers instead of enables.
“Laura’s Home feels like home. You’re surrounded by people who have experienced [poverty], or they have resources to lead you to what you need. They want to see you do better, and they gonna do their best to help you do better, but you have to want it by yourself. I have to put in the most work and everything else is going to follow. “
“This is like cheating, because you get a head start,” she laughs. There are people that have been out there and been living life, having a job, career, children, but they have no boundaries. And here it is we’re being given the tools to create boundaries and priorities without cracking or breaking.
Shaundreka might have a head start, but with plans to go back to trade school to become a welder, own her own home, and join a church, her time at Laura’s Home truly is just at the start. The lengthy process ahead is not a disappointment to her – only another wall to knock down with her newfound courage.
“Change is always uncomfortable, but then it’s better. All of the sudden I want things I never had. I want my family, I want that house, I want that career, I want that friendship, I want that healthy support. I want something I’ve never had, so I gotta do something that I’ve never done.
This is only the beginning of my new life.”
Shaundreka is just one Clevelander who was caught in the cycle of poverty – a cycle that could trap anyone with one crisis or bad decision. Thankfully, because of The City Mission and many other Cleveland organizations, there is hope for those who desire to transform their lives. And with your support, that’s how we’ll build a Greater Cleveland – one person, one family at a time.