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Years Later, You'd Never Know from Where I Came...

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Ashley, Journee, and Ashley's mentor Mary Pat

Chatting one day at the Ready for Life office with Ashley, you would never know she is the same young lady who several years earlier had gotten out of jail, arrested for petty theft, was homeless, hungry and had no plan. She was a young lady with great potential, who had taken a wrong turn and couldn't find her way forward.


On this occasion, she had stolen a white shirt that she was required to wear under her gown in three days at her high school graduation. Because she'd only spent four months--instead of six months--in foster care before turning 18, the law at that time provided her with no financial stipend for personal items. So she did the only thing she knew to do: she took it.


In fact, she had developed a pattern of stealing to obtain those personal items she needed, like tampons, underwear, etc.; but this time she got caught and she went to jail. Being arrested made it much harder to get a job, which in turn made it even harder to survive each day. It was one of four arrests for her for theft, all for personal items she needed but couldn't afford.


“The crazy thing is, drugs were not the reason I stole…I was stealing to survive so I wouldn’t end up in the streets again, and I wanted to walk in my graduation with the right clothing underneath my gown.” She remembers crying and telling the police and the store owners why she was stealing, but they still took her to jail.


One day, a Ready for Life Youth Specialist visited her group home, and Ashley asked if she qualified for their program. Because she had not "officially aged out” of the foster care system, she was not eligible for RFL's services either. But that didn’t stop her from getting involved, and RFL learned through Ashley that the experiences of former foster youth were often very similar to those who had aged out.


Ashley says she was the reason RFL expanded their mission to include anyone who was in the foster care system at all.


Ashley smiles as she speaks about getting involved at RFL.


“I started to come to the events. I just wanted to be involved. It was very intimate, and I felt like they all became family. All the youth accepted me even though I didn’t age out of the system. The people at RFL accepted me, too. The people involved with RFL--volunteers, staff, board members --all taught me many things. I just wanted a family, and I found it here."


She learned she could receive grants that would allow her to go to college. She didn’t qualify for the tuition waiver, but learned about and applied for financial aid. She started college studying psychology, and then found out RFL was hiring and another youth encouraged her to apply. She was hired in 2013 and worked as an intern with RFL, funded by a grant to teach job skills to former foster youth. "I worked hard and learned a lot," Ashley says. Eventually she took charge of the RFL Newsletter, and then started helping homeless youth until they became stabilized.


“Sometimes I think situations like what I experienced are why I am who I am. When I got out of jail, I started working hard so I would never go back again, and that became kind of like a magnet effect. People started gravitating toward me and helped me succeed in my life. I’m proud of those moments, even though I maybe shouldn’t be. If I didn’t go through any of that I wouldn’t have met anyone to mentor me. So now it’s a thing I went through and a hurdle I overcame that turned into a part of my success.”

Enter the mentor. In Ashley's case, it was Mary Pat McLain, a long-time mentor, volunteer and Board member for Ready for Life.


I just wanted a family, and I found it here."

"And then, Mary Pat came into my life and my whole world began to come together, She became my RFL Mentor when I was 21. I didn’t like her… at first,” Ashley chuckled.

It’s just the truth. But she wouldn’t go away. She kept calling me and coming in and seeing me at RFL, and kept inviting me to weekly dinners. I feel so bad looking back; I did not ma