I am ..
By Talid Banks
Honesty is a part of me.
I am, by all means true to my scripture that is written on my face.
I am the eyes that capture the important of failure and the significance of success
The past that last
Therefore I am content and not willing to regress
I am the strength to provide halt to the conspiracy that there is NO possibility
I am the thought
The courage that we have within
And the tear at the end … that you made it
I am the hand of recovery
The one at aid
I am…

The young woman seated next to me avoids meeting my gaze. Her soft words reflect a wisdom and grace that contrast with the starkness of her story. Talid is a 21-year-old member of the LGBTQ community. We are seated in a huddle room at Lighthouse Youth & Family Services, a partner agency to the Freestore Foodbank. It is the day before Thanksgiving and unlike the rest of the world, the atmosphere inside the building is strangely tense. “The holidays are difficult for our young clients,” says Sheri Hager, Director of Communications and Public Relations at Lighthouse. “Many of them struggle with memories and other triggers associated with the holidays.” My young friend is no exception. “Thanksgiving is not a favorite!” she states with passion. “Neither is Christmas!” I smile at her, gratified by her willingness to share and trying hard to convey my compassion and respect for one so young and wise beyond her years.

Talid was one of several children, born to a single mom who dated constantly and moved from city to city in search of love and companionship. They travelled from city to city –from Jackson, Mississippi to Texas and then to South Carolina – whenever and wherever her mom’s adventures took them. Talid moved out of her mother’s guardianship as soon as she turned 18. “I wanted to be independent,” she says. “I wanted to be my own person.” Travelling with her partner, she found herself in Colorado and started working at a meat processing plant there. “My job was messy and horrific,” she remembers. “I worked on carcasses, blood splattering everywhere, covering my hands and my clothes, cutting out inedible pieces of meat with a knife.” It was hard work and she fell ill from sheer exhaustion. Her girl-friend who worked at the same facility was laid off. While Talid struggled to recover, she lost her job too. Unable to pay their rent, the couple became homeless almost immediately.

“It was scary,” Talid admits. “Being homeless is scary. We almost froze to death while we wandered around looking for a place to stay.” Most homeless shelters in Colorado gave preference to the old, the disabled or to families with kids. The fact that they were young and lesbian made it challenging. “Being LGBTQ can cause homelessness because we can face rejection from our family,” says Talid. “In addition, being LGBTQ prolonged our homelessness because of acceptance and safety issues at existing shelters.” Someone eventually gave the young couple Greyhound tickets and they travelled for 30 hours across the country to Cincinnati and knocked on the door of Lighthouse Youth Services. “I had heard of Lighthouse when I’d been passing through Cincinnati during my travels,” Talid muses. “I remembered the kindness and open-mindedness of the staff. And I knew without doubt that I’d be safe here.” Lighthouse welcomed Talid and her partner, providing them with an apartment, warm meals and support services. They began working with a case worker. Talid’s partner who graduated from Freestore Foodbank’s culinary training program is looking for employment as a chef. Talid loves to write poetry and she hopes to land a job in security services. “I am grateful for the support at Lighthouse and I appreciate the compassion and generosity of everyone who works here,” she adds.

Lighthouse, founded in 1969, was the fulfillment of the dream of a group of citizens from the Baptist Women’s Fellowship in Cincinnati and others who sought a better future for young people and families. Originally a single group home, Lighthouse now provides housing, education, therapeutic and other services to over 5,000 youth and families each year. Early this year the Sheakley Center for Youth opened its door with 36 individual shelter bedrooms, 39 apartments and a resource center for youth aged between 18 and 24. The Center has operated at full capacity since the day its doors opened. “This tells me the crisis of homelessness among youth in this country has gotten worse over the years,” says David Durr, Shelter Director . “Families have been broken for generations and it is terrible to see so many young people suffer the consequences.” As an agency, Lighthouse tries to reunite youth with their families whenever possible.” “Families provide a support system that every young person needs,” adds Durr. “Our clients are young and they will make mistakes just like all of us. We try to reunite them with family so that they will receive support through life.”

The Freestore Foodbank works closely with Lighthouse to provide food assistance as well a multitude of other stabilization services. “The Freestore Foodbank serves as a one-stop shop for our clients,” remarks Paul Haffner, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our young clients often struggle with the complexities of securing identification documents, signing up for Medicaid or managing their own finances. 20% of our clients have developmental disabilities which make it impossible for them to navigate the system on their own. The Freestore Foodbank’s Payee Program helps our young clients use the financial assistance they receive towards paying their rent. “

The Center also works with workforce development programs such as Cincinnati COOKS! offered by the Freestore Foodbank to provide job training and employment opportunities to their clients. “When we refer a young person to the Freestore Foodbank, we can be confident that he will be taken care of,” adds Durr.

The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with Lighthouse and support them in their mission to empower young people and families to succeed through a continuum of care that promotes healing and growth.