Dominique Cleveland, 19 years old
New Directions Resident (2011-present)
Keynote Speaker for 2011 Crystal Ball Gala
My mother was an alcoholic. She was very demanding and when she didn’t get what she wanted she’d beat me and call me names that stabbed at my self esteem. Once she gave me two minutes to wash the car and threatened to beat me with a frying pan if I didn’t finish in time.
She abused my two brothers too and made unreasonable demands of them, but they were bigger than her so they’d ignore her and get away with it. I’d end up trying to do it all because I didn’t want to get hit.
I was abused verbally and physically all my life. My mom would wake us up in the middle of the night to make us do chores. I’ve had insomnia ever since. On the worst night of my life, my mom woke me up at 1 a.m. to clean the garage. She was unhappy with the way I was doing it and tore my clothes off me. She said I didn’t deserve anything she’d paid for. She took my glasses and said I didn’t deserve to see. She hit me and told me to get out. Something snapped inside me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw some things into a bag and ran for the door. My mom then panicked, thinking I’d go to the police and she tried to stop me. My bigger brother caught me and held me down while my mom put a pillow over my face then hit me. I managed to get away and jumped through a window. A neighbor called the police.
I went to stay with my uncle but he ended up taking me to social services because my mom kept threatening to kill him and his girlfriend as well as me. That’s when I came to the Children’s Shelter. I was sixteen. As much as I hated my life, I also missed the freedom of partying all night. I was angry and resisted rules. I threw temper tantrums and broke windows. I attempted suicide by drinking nail polish remover and taking pills I’d smuggled from my mother but I suddenly realized I wanted to live and I let the staff help me. I started opening up. For the first time, people actually listened to me. I’ve never met so many loving staff and loving kids as I met at the Shelter.
Staff helped me learn that I had to take responsibility for my actions. I started to do better in school, even stayed in the after school program and started my own recycling business.
Staff at Casa taught me that my mother’s abuse wasn’t my fault. They showed me that it’s OK to have feelings and express them but in a constructive way. When I graduated from High School, they had a big cake waiting for me and gifts like a suitcase I could use instead of the garbage bags I came in with.
I’m now in New Directions. I just finished my first year at Mira Costa College and work two jobs. I work on campus through the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services office. EOPS is a program for disadvantaged students like former foster youth and kids with low incomes. It started out as an internship and turned into a real job. I benefited from the program when I first came to college and now I have a chance to give back. One reason I got the job is that I can relate to these students in a different way than counselors and staff. Students listen to me because I’ve been where they are. I’m the first person in my family to attend college. I used EOPS to the max and know firsthand how powerful using a program like this can be.
I was also accepted into the Workforce Academy for Youth Program to work for the County for the next 6 months.
I still struggle against having a street mentality but James, my advocate at New Directions, reminds me “Look at the life your family had. Is that the life you want?”
Without New Directions, and the Shelter before that, I’d be homeless or doing drugs on the streets. New Directions has given me tools to be a better person and keeps me motivated when I feel down. I have a nice apartment and food on the table. I self-reflect every day and count my blessings. One day I hope to be a counselor and help others discover paths to new and better lives.
Thank you for helping me through your support of Casa de Amparo. Your donations this evening will go a long way in helping children and young adults like me get the help they need to better their lives.