I still remember my dear friend Lisa Aviles crying as she said goodbye to me. I was on my way to Family Court, which had been ordered by the state and my mother. “Chill,” I said to her, “I’ll see you later.” She just looked at me and said, “Okay,” but her eyes were very sad.
That’s the last day I ever saw Lisa. Our paths went in totally opposite directions. I was ordered to St. Christopher’s by the Family Court and would remain there for the next four years.
It ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. Back then, I was going down the wrong path, and my mother had no control over me while she and my father worked 10 hours a day. Like many Puerto Ricans who arrived in the mainland United States, my parents settled in the Bronx. It is also important to remember that PR is part of the US, it is the mainland.
I remember buildings being burned down (including where we lived) as landlords cashed in on insurance money. I remember my mother looking for me in the wee hours of the night to take me back home.
My parents’ love for me as well as their struggle to survive financially were both very difficult at times, but they managed to get me and my brother out of a challenging neighborhood. The only regret we have is that they held onto my brother, and it changed all of our lives forever.
My parents were so heartbroken, and my mother felt like she failed. She wanted me at home, but I was not the easiest to raise once I hit my teens. She kept trying on her own with my brother, but the neighborhood’s challenges were just the beginning of issues that led to my brother’s life ending at a young age. I miss him dearly every day!
I later learned that my friend Lisa also died very young.
My belief is that I am here today because of my parents’ love and St. Christopher’s dedication to helping adolescents with emotionally challenging behaviors.
The photo here is old and not very clear, but here I am posing at 13 years old with my best friend Christine. Oh, the stories we shared and continue to share as FOREVER sisters bonded by our young lives at St. Christopher’s!
How I Want to Help St. Christopher’s
Because kids like these are our future, Vegan Wines is launching a campaign to support St. Christopher’s. Although we don’t all come from good neighborhoods, together we can help keep some of these kids safe and offer them everyday guidance to help them move forward.
Since the time I was at the Dobbs Ferry Campus, St. Christopher’s has opened two other New York locations. The centerpiece of the Jennie Clarkson Campus in North Castle is Jennie’s Farm, where youth have the chance to bond with and care for farm animals, like donkeys, goats, and chickens, in addition to therapy dogs. And off-campus, they can engage in therapeutic horse riding.
The results are inspiring—this video features three residents’ journeys. The Young Women’s Leadership Center in New Windsor helps young women develop the strengths and coping skills they need to reduce the impact of the trauma they’ve experienced and pursue interests with less gender stereotyping; here’s one resident’s story.
I’m super-excited about both programs, which didn’t exist when I was there. In particular, caring for animals at Jennie’s Farm is supporting so many kids’ ability to understand love, faith and patience. We all have it in us, and with the right tools and environments, we can blossom—and that is what St. Christopher’s is all about in my heart. I am not sure if I would be here today if it wasn’t for parental sacrifice and that dedicated group of people who were filled with loving determination.
Vegan Wines will announce the specific program that we are adopting on Labor Day at an event we’re hosting at our property in Gardiner, New York. We hope you will view the videos and visit the St. Christopher’s website and learn more about their work.
If you would like to join us in supporting St. Christopher’s, you can donate in a few ways:
Via Network For Good.
Or by making a check payable to St. Christopher’s, Inc. and mailing it to St. Christopher’s, Inc., Advancement, 71 South Broadway, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522.
You can also make St. Christopher’s, Inc. your Amazon Smiles charity which enables them to receive donations of 0.5% of eligible purchases without costing you any additional money. Simply log onto smile.amazon.com and designate St. Christopher’s, Inc. as your charity, and use the URL smile.amazon.com so your purchases trigger these donations.