Emily Dickinson was once quoted as saying “Where thou art, that is home.” I interpret that as making the best of your circumstances and using that environment and situation to propel you to where you want to be. This was the exact situation that Michelle Thomas El was forced in 2008 at the age of 22 and four months into her pregnancy.
Michelle was having domestic violence issues with her child’s father, and after her mother told her that she couldn’t handle another mouth to feed, Michelle was forced to leave. Her unstable situation caused her to spend a few nights in a city shelter. She felt perplexed. She didn’t fit in with the older women at the shelter who had a different set of problems. Scared and confused, she was told about Covenant House. The assistance that Michelle received from Covenant House played a pivotal part in her reestablishing her stability.
Covenant House Washington’s 2014 Young Professional Sleep Out is scheduled for March 21. More than 50 of the area’s young business leaders, college students and entrepreneurs have registered for the event and are committed to sleeping outside to raise awareness and support for homeless youth.
Michelle is helping Covenant House raise awareness about young and young adult homelessness in the District of Columbia. She was gracious enough to give us some insight on taking her struggle and turning it into an inspiration for her success.
I. In 2008, you faced the crisis of homelessness head on. How would you describe that experience?
In 2008, I faced the crisis of homelessness head on. I would describe that time as one of the most troublesome experiences ever! I had no place to go and no one to turn to and, I was pregnant!
II. Covenant House played a major role in stabilizing your life. Describe the benefits of utilizing the resources at Covenant House.
Covenant House has played a major role in stabilizing my life. The main benefit of utilizing the resources at Covenant House is that, at first, they provided me with a temporary place to live. Very soon after giving birth to my precious baby girl, I met the criteria and was referred to their Supportive Housing Program (SHP). This permanent housing program provided me with opportunities that will last a lifetime. I was able to enroll my daughter in their Child Development Center after she was 6 weeks old. Since I had childcare, I was able to take advantage of their Work Readiness, Employment and Training (WRET) program. While there, I encouraged to get training and obtained by license as a Certified Nursing Assistant in 2010.
III. Your homeless stint started with a difficult family decision made by your mom. She stated that she could not take care of you and your newborn baby. When looking at the faces of the younger homeless generation, how much of this can be attributed to breaches in families and their relationships?
We don’t pick or choose our family members. In other words, we can’t focus on what they should have or could have done for us. You must move on and even learn to build those bridges – move forward. I did – and found Covenant House.
IV. I participated in a “sleep out” for Covenant House. That night was the first and hopefully only time that I’ll have to sleep outside. I had to take some time and mentally prepare in an effort to go to sleep. Describe the first night in the shelter with your newborn child.
It was scary. But, I realize now that I needed that experience because I will do all that I have to do so I will never have to live it again!
V. You’ve obtained a license as a Certified Nursing Assistant and you’re now in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at Montgomery Community College. What are your future plans?
I was one of the first recipients of the Futures Scholarship and that allowed me to enroll in Montgomery Junior College in hopes of pursuing a degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. I’ve also been working part-time for over 2 years as a patient transporter. My future plans are to continue my education still and eventually obtain a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.
VI. If given a chance, what would you say to a person who has no idea or desire to care about what’s happening to the homeless population?
Remember – most of us are just a paycheck away from being homeless!
VII. For a moment, think back to the 2008 version of yourself. What would you say to her to keep her motivated?
I would remind myself that it may seem hard, it may take time but it isn’t impossible to overcome! These are words I live by!
To donate to this cause, go to Covenant House.