Kalese, her mom and two sisters were homeless in 2013, struggling to eat, find shelter, stay in school – all the things that most people take for granted. And the phrase that Kalese uses over and over again to describe the most difficult part of that unimaginably challenging period in their lives is, “everyone just judged us.”
As the Justices struggled to survive and stay safe day today, they also struggled to remain hopeful. They had encountered so few people willing to help and so few people willing to listen and understand that it seemed like the darkness would never end. And then it did.
“When we finally found the Seminole County Public Schools Families In Transition Program, it was like God opened a door for us,” explained Kalese.
The program coordinator found shelter and clothes for the family and connected the girls with the J. Douglas Williams YMCA. Not long after joining the Y, Kalese was nominated to represent the J. Douglas Y on the Metropolitan Teen Ambassador Board. As a Teen Ambassador, Kalese had the opportunity to participate in the YMCA Christian Leadership Conference at Blue Ridge. With a renewed purpose gained during the conference, Kalese began spearheading community outreach initiatives, including a community day for families in need.
During a time when her family was struggling, the Y provided Kalese and her sisters with new opportunities for growth and development, while creating a sense of normalcy. The Y became a safe place they could go during the day, it was a retreat in the summer and it was a place that was welcoming and free from judgment.
“It felt like all these people just wanted to help, and going to the Y became our home when we had no other,” Kalese explains. “They were family. They did not judge, and they embraced our family.”
Today, the Justices have a home, a real home, and Kalese is going to school, working at the Y part-time and serving the community as a member of the YMCA Teen Ambassadors Board.