The Plain Dealer held an event February 21st, 2018 that brought about 250 people together to hear about the power of implementing a model that brings people together to help transform lives and our community. We had the privilege of hearing from three articulate young adults who were brave enough to share their stories with us. For those who could not attend, we thought we would share one of the powerful stories. This is the story of becoming visible after a lifetime of feeling invisible. Tiara received a standing ovation at the end of her time and after you read her powerful words, you will understand why:
“My name is T and I’m here to share with you why I, as a young adult think Open Table is so important and how it has affected my life. I have chosen to read my story to limit my mistakes, because I have never been seen, or heard by this many people.
First a little background, life has always been chaotic. Being in and out of foster care every aspect has been on the move. Where I lived. Who I knew. Who I was.
Circumstances made my childhood— a blurry memory in a sea of struggle, confusion, and responsibility. I had to grow up fast and learn to fill many shoes that there was no time to grow into. But they had to be filled. So, I filled them.
After graduating high school and starting life on my own most of my roles as a caretaker for the younger kids I lived with went away. There was no one to order me around. No one to take care of. No one to protect. It was me, just me. But who was I? I was invisible. Floating through life with no one to care for me, and no one for me to care for. No one to see me.
I was invisible and I was alone.
Any faith I may have still had in family, in friends, in humanity was gone.
And then…The YWCA found me. They saw me and took me in from the shelter and started to give me everything I believe I would never have. They put me in my first apartment and provided the resources and care I needed to really learn how to live and maintain life on my own. It’s where I met the people that inspire me. Where I met my mentor Rev. Beverly Johnson. With their help, I learned to take care of myself and with their help I brought by beautiful son into a healthy, loving environment. Something I always dreamed of. With their help I learned I had the tools I needed to become an independent young woman.
So I graduated again. I got my second apartment in the community for my son and I and a good job. But, old friends, invisibility, and loneliness soon crept back in and made themselves at home. But I kept going. I have no choice. My son depended on me now.
It was only after a series of unfortunate events: losing my job, my house burning down, my mom diagnosed with cancer, and taking custody of my three youngest sibling—I finally reached my breaking point. I needed help. And thankfully I was able to return to the YWCA and that’s when Beverly introduced me to Open Table. She explained it’s a community of people whose main goal would be to help me. I must admit I was skeptical at first. “These people that don’t know me PAID to talk to me? PAID to help me?” But I figured why not I have nothing to lose.
Since Open Table has become a part of my life it has been nothing less than an eye opening experience. To sit with a group of strangers is needless to say scary. After feeling invisible for so long its terrifying! But to find out these strangers aren’t like the many of “others” I’ve known is amazing! They’re not driven by profit or gain. They are not punching the clock waiting for the hour to be over. They are there because they want to be. Because they want to help. They want to care about me. ME…It’s scary. It’s new. But it’s Great!
We have only known each other for 6 months but we have done and learned so much together. They are there to help me with everything. My family, my goals. But they are also there when I just need to vent. Just to listen. They take interest in all that is me. It’s awesome.
The reason Open Table is important to me is because it gave me hope. Hope in this world and in people—that good still exists. That we can still be family. Brothers and sisters! No matter where we come from or how we group up. It gives me hope that every child can be heard. Be seen. It gives me hope that every foster child has a family an Open Family. An Open Table.
As I look out tonight at all of you: I am visible. I have hope. And that is beautiful. I hope to sit where you sit someday and have the privilege to be the difference.
People are stepping forward from all walks of life to say, yes, I will come to the table. There is still room for more folks, but give us some time to get organized. It will take a few months to really get everyone where they belong and match table members with young people. As you hear from Tiara, it is a sacred process that cannot be rushed, but it also cannot be delayed.
If you are interested, feel free to complete this short Indication of Interest form. We will get back to you with more information.
If you want to watch the entire presentation click here.