“When I was coming down here, I didn’t think I was going to live for a long time,” says Shera, her brown eyes filling with tears. “Because I thought someone will hurt me, or I was going to starve.”
Just 19 years old, Shera drove toward the Vermont border from Montreal a year ago, alone and with no idea where to go. Her mother had just told her she couldn’t stay in their family home. And so, Shera headed for Vermont. “It was the closest place.”
Shera was born in New York and is Guinean, but spent much of her life in France, outside Paris, with her mother, stepfather, and siblings. Conflict with her mother started when Shera was 15: her mother wanted to arrange a marriage for Shera, but she refused. Soon after, they relocated to Montreal, but Shera alone wasn’t granted Canadian residency. So when her mother kicked her out last winter, she headed for the closest U.S. border, not knowing where she would land or how she would survive.
Worried about her, a border patrol officer looked up shelters in Burlington and sent her to an address downtown. But when she got there, she couldn’t find the shelter. A young woman passing by took her to the COTS warming shelter. “She didn’t want to leave me alone,” Shera says.
At COTS, a case manager told Shera about Spectrum, because we serve young people her age. The Landing (our shelter) was full at the time, but our Drop-In Center staff gave her a place to take a shower, get new clothing and food—and took her under their wing.
“Shera walked into Drop-In and immediately made a connection with staff and peers,” says Allie, our Drop-In Coordinator. “Her resiliency, strength, and kindness have amazed us. When Shera comes to Drop-In these days, she often says how grateful she is for finding our program. I hope she knows how grateful we are that she found us, too.”
She almost immediately got two jobs, an early morning shift and one in the afternoons, and was able to start saving. A few weeks later, Shera got into the Landing, where she worked with staff to build independence and set goals for her future.
Today, just a year since that lonely and fearful drive toward the border, Shera is taking classes at the Community College of Vermont. She recently got promoted at her current job. And she still comes to Drop-In every week to check in and get help when she needs it.
“I thought it was crazy what I was doing when I was driving here, but I didn’t know what else to do,” she says in her French accent. “If something happened to me, who will realize that I disappeared? But Allie will realize, because she always cares about me. I had nothing and people were helping me. I feel like I was still part of society. I wasn’t completely left out.”
The Community Health Investment Fund at the UVM Medical Center supports a wide range of community programs and initiatives that improve the health of our community. The fund is overseen by the Community Health Investment Committee, which is made up of both community members and hospital staff. We invest $800,000 annually in efforts that further the priority areas identified in the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment. To date, we have supported 23 programs at 19 organizations across our service area in our current fiscal year. The 2017-2019 priority areas are: Access to Healthy Food, Chronic Conditions, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Supportive Housing.