by Alexzandra Hust and Elliott Harris
“It wasn’t always like this,” says Jaime. He remembers younger days, simpler days. Perhaps that perceived ease and simplicity are made to be more now than they ever truly were because of a life that has taught Jaime what he knows today. Yet, if nostalgia adds some unrealistic magic to his history, it is still difficult to deny the changes that slowly took hold of his family and, consequently, Jaime’s own life.
As Jaime began high school, more was changing for him than his journey through adolescence. He was coming into his own as a soccer player and trying his best to enjoy the various treasures and tribulations that come with being a young man.
At the same time, Jaime’s mother was coming out of a relationship with a man who had abused her. While the change brought an end to the potential for abuse, it also brought financial troubles and other circumstances that further burdened what remained of Jaime’s family. Because his mother lost custody of her youngest children to her ex-husband, the family now consisted of only Jaime, his sister, and his mom.
The transition to a family of three headed by a single parent was difficult on everyone involved, but Jaime’s mother took it especially hard. Her exceedingly troubled outlook affected Jaime and his sister.
“Whenever something bad would happen in her life, she would take it out on us,” says Jaime. “She’d call us ungrateful, or find a way to blame us for what was happening.”
As a freshman in high school, Jaime was working and saving money so that he could attend the Winter Formal dance at school. His mother was not working at the time and asked to borrow the money he had saved for the dance to cover some of her own expenses. When Jaime said no, his mom got upset. “You’re going to be just like your father,” she said.
His mother called the police. It didn’t take officers long to find Jaime and take him back home, but it was hardly the end of tensions between son and parent.
Jaime remembers his sophomore year of high school as the height of his family’s troubles. They had moved into a new house which the landlord offered rent-free as long as the family worked to fix the house while they lived there.
“But we never worked on the house,” said Jaime. “If anything, it just got worse.”
The family’s living situation grew increasingly uncertain with pressure from the landlord to leave, and with that uncertainty came depression for Jaime’s mother. She was anxious and easy to upset. Jaime remembers the ill-fated prophecies his mother would dispense, telling Jaime he’d grow up to be an idiot, a murderer; a rapist.
“It wasn’t always like this,” says Jaime. “I can remember when me and my mom were really close, but everything she was telling me now – I just got so tired of everything and I started to hate myself.
“I started to think about hopping onto a train and leaving… or hopping in front of one. It was a really bad time.”
The next year – his junior year – Jaime left his family’s house for good. After his mother told him she would no longer give him a ride to work, his options for building a stable present and future were fewer now than ever before.
On the night Jaime finally left his house for good, the stress and tension in his family finally reached a breaking point, his mother speaking the words that would alter Jaime’s life: “I think it’s time for you to pack your things and leave this house.”
Over the course of Jaime’s junior and senior year, with no permanent place to call home, he was left to move between the houses of friends. He’d spend five months here, three months there; a few nights somewhere else. At each stop, the same story played out: generosity would wear thin from some member of his temporary family, or financial or relationship troubles further complicated an already complex situation for Jaime.
Amid the instability, Jaime’s grades suffered. It was difficult to keep up with homework when he struggled to keep a home.
One day, the Abilene Independent School District’s Homeless Liaison offered Jaime the chance to connect with Our House, a transitional living program offered through BCFS Health and Human Services in Abilene, Texas. The school set up an interview between Jaime and an Our House case manager, Alexzandra Hust.
When Alexzandra explained what Our House could do for Jaime, he was in disbelief. Alexzandra remembers Jaime asking, “What’s the catch?”
Alexzandra laid out the rules for living at the house, which included maintaining a drug-free lifestyle and working towards independence. It all seemed so simple compared to the life Jaime had grown used to. Soon, Our House would give Jaime a place to call home.
Our House is a transitional living program that provides young men facing homelessness with a safe, stable living environment. The young adults living in the home receive services from staff and community partners including education assistance, employment training, and a sharpening of life skills.
While living in the house, residents learn to share in communal responsibilities – from general cleaning or dinner preparation to service projects benefiting the local neighborhood. The goal of Our House is to help young men grow to better manage their lives as they develop professional skills to more quickly become independent, responsible, contributing members of the community.[EH1]
As a high school senior, Jaime was approved to live at Our House, which provided him with resources through BCFS Health and Human Services and their partners, such as the Texas Workforce Commission, that he otherwise would not have known were available. Most importantly, he finally had a consistent place to call home.
With a newfound sense of stability, Jaime enjoyed more free time than he was accustomed to. He made a few friends who shared similar pasts to his own. “I grew close to those guys, but I started following their ways.”
With new friends came new habits, and as he spent more time connecting with his new companions, alcohol and drugs placed Jaime’s life on a downward path. Though Our House requires drug tests from its residents, and a positive result would threaten the stability Jaime had found, as depression crept into his life, he was indifferent to the consequences of his actions.
He was struggling, and he knew it.
“I looked and saw my future in front of me: this wasn’t anything to live for and work for,” says Jaime. Eventually he reached out to Alexzandra and BCFS-Abilene Texas Workforce Commission Advocate Shelby Garfield, admitting everything he was going through.
“I’ve gotta thank Alex and Shelby because they’ve always been there for me and always been my support group,” says Jaime. “They’ve been a big part of my life and influenced me to go in the right direction.”
When Jaime told them about his difficulties, Shelby and Alexzandra got him involved in a local community program that helped turn him away from dependency and build a resolve against negativity. “They taught me how to change my life by staying busy,” says Jaime. He has internalized that lesson, keeping himself focused and active.
In staying busy and working hard, Jaime was left with a difficult choice. Near the end of high school, he realized he would have to give up one of his most faithful companions throughout life: the game of soccer. “It was a tough decision for me because soccer was something that could take me away from whatever I was going through,” says Jaime.
Work and school were enough on their own, and soccer had become yet another expenditure of time in an increasingly cramped schedule. He knew his options were limited if he had any hope of maintaining his grades and reaching his professional potential. He discussed the possibility of leaving the soccer team with his youth minister, who offered simple advice: “What’s going to help you the most in life?”
As tough as it was, Jaime finally told his coach he would not be able to continue playing with the varsity team. Afterward, Jaime spoke with Shelby about the weight of the decision he had felt forced to make.
“I don’t know Shelby, I’m pretty down,” he said.
“Well, I know what might cheer you up,” said Shelby. “How about a full-ride scholarship to Hardin Simmons University?” Unknown to Jaime, Hardin Simmons and BCFS-Abilene had been developing a full-ride scholarship for a resident at Our House. With a strong work ethic, a great educational track record, and a history that showed an unwillingness to stop when obstacles were in his way, Jaime proved to be a fitting candidate for the scholarship. Jaime describes the award from Hardin Simmons as the “biggest blessing I could ask for.”
Today, Jaime works two jobs, averaging between 50 and 60 hours a week to pay his bills and afford his own apartment that he recently moved into after leaving Our House. Five days a week, Jaime works construction in the morning and afternoon, and three to four nights a week, he takes an evening shift at Hendrick Medical Center as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). While the two jobs pay his bills, they also allow him to steadily build a savings account so that he can be prepared for the expenses of college as well as any unforeseen financial troubles. Jaime works hard to afford a life he has chosen to live, no longer a fate decided for him.
Meanwhile, Jaime’s relationship with his mother has drifted. While he and his mother rarely speak, he tries his best to stay in contact with his younger brothers and sisters, who are now 12, 13, and 16 years old. Jaime has high hopes for his oldest sister in particular, whose brilliance he finds hard to ignore.
“I was fortunate to get the scholarship from Hardin Simmons, but if anyone deserves it more, it’s probably my sister,” says Jaime. “She has real potential, she’s amazing and just… so smart.” Jaime looks forward to supporting his sister’s education once she graduates high school, and hopes to do so for each of his younger siblings when the time comes for them.
Next fall, Jaime will begin his degree in nursing at Hardin Simmons University. Until then, he will attend a local community college to earn a few credits toward his coursework at Hardin Simmons. Jaime plans to use all the lessons he has learned to ensure success is as achievable as possible. “I’m going to every study hall, every tutoring session; whatever it takes to make it,” Jaime says.
After college, he wants to move to San Antonio to begin his nursing career, hopefully rekindling some of the spirit he found in the movie Patch Adams, which was Jaime’s earliest inspiration to join the medical field. The film remains a standard for the level of care he wants to provide his patients and coworkers today.
“Sometimes, the other nurses [at Hendrick] will have to come pretend like they need me in another room. I’ll be talking with a patient for 30 minutes or longer. They think I’m stuck in there with them, but really I just want to know what’s going on; I just want to make sure they’re getting everything they need and that we’re doing everything we can for them,” he says.
He may become a doctor later in life, depending on the opportunities that become available, but for now, he simply feels blessed to have plans he finally feels capable of achieving through his own will and through the help and guidance of the individuals and organizations who have brought him this far. No matter what happens, Jaime will continue making moves that maintain a life of freedom, mobility, and independence.