50 Stories for 50 Years #Spectum50thFridays

How our community has made sure teens and young adults get the help they need for 50 years.

In honor of Spectrum’s 50th Anniversary in 2020, we are collecting stories from those who have used our services, or had a connection to Spectrum over the last 50 years—clients, family members, mentors, and community leaders. This website is a place to share these stories over the next year.

A special thanks to all of YOU—our donors, volunteers, mentors, partners, current and former clients—for making sure help is there for teens and young adults who are struggling.

Want to share your story? Share online by clicking here or contact Charlotte Steverson at csteverson@spectrumvt.org.

August 7, 2020

Sango's Story

This fall, Burlington High School sophomore, Sango, was struggling to understand her classes. Sango was born in Somalia and her first language is Swahili. She was having trouble structuring sentences in English and using the metric system.

In September, Sango’s teacher referred her to the Help Desk in the school library. Since then, Marelyn, our Multicultural Youth Program (MYP) AmeriCorps staff member, has given Sango support with both her math and English classes as well as encouraged her to ask for more help when she needs it.

“The Help Desk was launched at the request of the Burlington School District,” says Marelyn, “when they found that several students from refugee families were dropping out of high school due to the challenges they faced at school and at home.”

MYP has Help Desks in Burlington, Winooski, and now Essex High Schools, staffed with help from the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, and the Community and Economic Development Office. We also provide support out of school through organized community activities, an afterschool space for extra assistance, and an annual Youth Leadership Conference.

“For students new to the US, understanding what is going on at school can be difficult, to say the least,” says Daimeyon Williams, the MYP Manager at Spectrum. “The Help Desks are really there so our staff can provide on-site assistance with any challenge that a student who identifies as multicultural might be facing, whether that’s academic, at home or work, or out in the community”

“My teachers were the ones who told me about the Help Desk and then I met some of the help desk guys. I’ve now come at least ten times to get help with my work,” Sango says.

Since Sango began getting help, her grades have improved and she is able to understand more in her classes. Most importantly, she now has the confidence to ask for help when she needs it.

June 26, 2020

Ryan's Story

Ryan Jensen, a former Spectrum mentor, shares his story of becoming part of the Spectrum community.

April 17, 2020

Ben's Story

This video is an interview with Ben, a former Spectrum youth, during the 2020 Spectrum Virtual Sleep Out.

"It's the stigma that comes with it. I think that people just need to be aware that when we do nothing, it doesn't get better."

April 3, 2020

Tian's Story

Tian Berry, a former Spectrum youth and a Spectrum Sleep Out speaker, shared this story with us during the 2020 Spectrum Sleep Out.

"The sleep out is more than an opportunity for me to show support to the community, it is a chance for me to connect with it, too. Although I don't know exactly where I'll be sleeping out this year, I WILL be doing it, and here's why...

From 2016-2018 I made four attempts to end my life with two of them resulting in hospital admissions on an inpatient psychiatric unit.

I received treatment for underlying symptoms but what I didn't get, and what no health insurance can ever pay for, is the one preventative measure that ceases to exist when you leave treatment: community.

I have a tendency to isolate and find myself spiraling down because of it.

Despite being determined to not have another hospital admission, I couldn't bring myself to actually go out and do something in the world. Then, in March 2018 I was asked to speak at the sleep out, which was the first time I had ever really shared my story about what brought me to Spectrum.

After speaking, I went home with a heart full of warmth and a HUGE smile on my face. This event was the nexus for opportunities and the beginning of a community I didn't know existed; a community of people who care, who want to learn, and are willing to listen.

Spectrum gave me the small nudge I needed to believe my voice and my words were worth sharing and listening to.

There are days where I stumble, and there are days where I get caught up in the what-if's of life, but there are also days where I shine and get to experience, and live in the present.

It is with great confidence that I can say that I STRONGLY believe in the power of community.

While my treatment is what got me out of the hospital and back into the world, my community allows me to stay in it and experience all the beauty and messiness it has to offer."

March 6, 2020

Shawna's Story

This video was created for the 2019 Empty Bowl Dinner. Click the video below to hear Logan tell his story. Video production by RetroMotion Creative.

"I was struggling with personal issues and confidence - but it’s going to be ok, this happens. It’s going to get better."

February 28, 2020

Aden's Story

We recently interviewed Aden Haji, a Spectrum employee and someone who used our services as a youth.

Aden Haji and his family moved here in 2003 when Aden was 6 years old. They were the first Somali Bantu refugees to resettle in Vermont.

“Living in Burlington has made me realize the importance of mentorship for youth like myself. Getting involved in the community was a challenge when we moved here,” Aden says.

“So when I got older, I started volunteering at local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club to support kids who were going through what I went through.”

When he was a teenager at Burlington High school, Aden got involved with Spectrum’s Multicultural Youth Program, a program launched in 2015 to support youth who self-identify as a person of color or multicultural. For two years, he joined the Youth Advisory Committee to help plan our Multicultural Youth Leadership Conference.

Now, Aden is a youth coordinator for the Multicultural Youth Program. He uses his experiences to help youth from multicultural families overcome any challenges they may be facing. This could include getting extra help with schoolwork, applying to college, finding access to translation services, or navigating life in the United States.

Aden says, “It is easy to get very focused within your family system. My family didn’t always know what was available for me. It is hard to go outside of your own comfort zone, especially when you don’t have someone to guide you. I wanted to be that guide. ”

MYP is unique in that it allows staff to take their first-hand observations of what youth from diverse families in the Burlington community need and then build programs to address those needs.

“I’ve been trying to do this work for a long time, but through Spectrum, we have both the mission and the team to make an impact. I'm helping families and youth during difficult times. I’m able to offer solutions that will get results.”

February 21, 2020

Logan's Story

This video was created for the 2019 Empty Bowl Dinner. Click the video below to hear Logan tell his story. Video production by RetroMotion Creative.

"Don’t let it beat you. Cause as long as you stick with it, you’re going to get through it. It’s just getting over that wall is the first part of it. It is a very big wall, but it can be climbed."

February 14, 2020

Shannon's Story

After years bouncing among foster homes, Shannon was homeless.

We recently interviewed Shannon, a woman that used to use Spectrum's services. Here is Shannon’s story:

Shannon stopped going to school in 8th grade when she entered the foster care system. It was just too difficult to show up to school while moving from foster home to foster home.

Those years were challenging, but it wasn’t until she aged out of the foster care system in 2004 that she really fell on difficult times. Shannon was living in an apartment in Hardwick that she couldn’t afford and had few life skills and no resources.

She was also struggling with her mental health and self-medicating through drug use.

“I couldn’t get a job with my 8th grade education,” Shannon says. “I eventually found myself sleeping on the streets, had no money, and no job.”

An Open Door...

Shannon started coming to the Drop-In Center every day to take a shower, eat meals, and get support from the Drop-In staff. She would live in a tent at the waterfront or at the Waystation, an emergency shelter run by COTS, with blankets or a sleeping bag from the Drop-In staff.

“If it wasn't for walking in to Spectrum back then and seeing Justin's face greet me at the door like a big brother, I most likely would have died,” she says. “That is the truth.” (Justin was the Drop-In manager at the time.)

The Drop-In staff taught Shannon the skills she needed to support herself on her own.

“They taught me how to plant a vegetable garden, they taught me to balance a checkbook, pay my bills, and talk myself up for a job interview even though I had no work experience and a criminal record.”

Shannon got a job printing newspapers at the Burlington Free Press, something Spectrum staff helped her to find and prepare for.

“I was on the third-shift,” she says, “which worked for me at the time because I would work all night and then come in and nap on the Drop-In couches during the day.”

Every time Shannon would start to feel out of control and overwhelmed with life, Justin and the Drop-In staff were there to support her.

“Whenever I needed to talk, they were there. When I needed a sandwich, they were there. When I felt like harming myself or using substances, they were there. I could always count on them for a hug and a pep talk.”

A Chance...

Shannon has been drug-free and out of jail since 2008. She lives in Chittenden County and has worked for UVM for the past 5 years. She credits her experience at Spectrum for helping her get on track.

“They never gave up on me. I felt like there were people that actually cared about my success and they believed in me even though I never believed in myself."

“Kids that age out of the foster care system have a really hard time. There are very few programs for us. It is so hard to have nowhere to go and no one that cares. It is a comfort to know that Spectrum still exists for the next kid like me that needs help."

"It is all we want... a chance. Just one person out there to believe in us.”

February 07, 2020

Ariel's Story

We recently interviewed Ariel, one of the youth staff at Detail Works, Spectrum’s car detailing business. Here is Ariel’s story:

I came from family that wasn’t exactly the smartest or the nicest. No matter where you come from or what you have experienced—good or bad—it all adds up and you just grow from it. You can't let it tear you down, even if you don’t have parents. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I used to live at my grandmother's and then an opportunity fell in my lap and I was able to rent a room. That's where I got my stable living situation.

Living on my own has shown me what I can really do. I'm learning about myself every day, just like in this job. I love this job.

I didn't really have much of a mother growing up and my dad wasn’t around, but I don't need my parents. I've been through the court system. I was abused in many different ways—physical, emotional, and verbal.

I now have some mental health problems. When I was younger, they got in the way a lot. Now I'm realizing that things can be much different. I like ‘me’ now compared to my past ‘me.’

I found this job because my cousin was working at Detail Works and she told me about it. Detailing cars seemed easy to me. You know, I'm very good at cleaning. So I called them and asked if there was an open position and—BAM—I was in!

Detailing was difficult at first, things are usually difficult in the beginning, right? But as I started coming here every day, doing the work, and learning new things, I just started to get it.

Before I came to Detail Works, I used to be a cashier. I had a lot of different jobs, actually. This is the longest I’ve ever had a job.

In three months after working here, I had gotten two promotions and became a trainer. I like managing people around my age. I know some things that they don't know, and I can teach them and offer them advice.

I also really like the learning process. I've learned how to do headlight restoration, use the buffer, to wax, and I’ve learned how to use lacquer thinner which takes tree sap off the outside of the car.

All of the other jobs I’ve had got me to where I am today, but the difference between all of my other jobs and working at Detail Works is the way that we are treated here.

I'm just proud that I get my butt out of bed every day. I came to work today and continue to do that every day of the week. It is the beginning of everything. You have to take a step forward in order to keep walking.

It is the workers that make Detail Works special. We've all had hard times, but because of Spectrum and the Drop-In Center and Detail Works we’re able to learn and grow. They’re teaching us what we need to know so we have the skills for our future. We’re stronger and better because of it.

Life is hard. It's going to throw stuff at you, but it's what you do with that stuff that matters—and how you do it."
"I'm so grateful. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to have a good life, a better life that I want."

January 31, 2020

Asia's Story

Written by Spectrum staff after an interview with Asia, a young woman who lived in our supported housing program last year.

Last summer, Asia rented a room in a house, signing a lease with the woman who owned it and who also lived there. Taking college classes and working full-time, she diligently paid her rent on time for four months.

It turned out, however, that this woman didn’t own the house.

The actual landlord came knocking at the end of August, looking for the rent that Asia’s roommate had never turned over to him. The roommate was nowhere to be found. Asia had two days to move out.

“I didn’t know where to go. I had to pack a duffel bag and I had one trash bag of things. I walked down the street and was just standing in the neighborhood like, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’

“I went to Greer’s on Williston Road—a 24-hour laundromat—and I sat there all day and night just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I ended up falling asleep there that night.”

Early the next morning, Asia found a storage facility down the road, and rented the smallest unit they had. “I took my duffle bag and my plastic bag, and I sat inside of the storage place and I was like, ‘Okay. I’m protected from the outside elements.’ So I started sleeping in there. I did that for a while and still went to school, still went to work. I also got a gym membership so I could shower.”

After sleeping in the storage unit for a month, the owner noticed and asked her to leave. She gave up the unit, packed what she could into the duffle bag, and found places to sleep wherever she could—all while showering at the gym, working, and going to school.

“I slept in gas station bathrooms…just crazy situations,” she says. “But once mid-terms started to approach, I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’ it’s just physically draining, mentally draining, keeping up the same facade.”

She went to Economic Services, but she couldn’t get food stamps. “They said that I made too much based off the school loans that I got and the amount of hours I was working,” she says. “But they said I can go down the street—there’s a place called Spectrum.”

“I went to the Drop-In Center and as soon as I walked in, Christina [Drop-In senior staff] greeted me and her spirit alone is just so sweet. I let her know my situation. She was very understanding. I never felt judged. I didn’t feel alone.”

Asia asked about housing and was connected to Alex, our intake coordinator, who offered her a bed in The Landing upstairs. “And when she said that, I just couldn’t even deal with it,” says Asia. “It was just overwhelming, but she took me right upstairs immediately said I can put my stuff down and to come back later when we’re serving dinner if I’m hungry. It made me feel like I’m not the only one in this, that they’re here for me.”

“The staff were very welcoming and it just made me feel so secure and so safe. It was just opposite of what I had been feeling and it just felt so good to just take a deep breath and just say, okay, I’m going to be fine.

“And from there, things just kind of got better.”

“The fact that the community supports this organization is just amazing to me,” says Asia. “Even when I thought I was alone, I wasn’t alone. Now that I know that there are people out there that care, it just makes living each day even better and it makes me want to do the best that I can. So thank you again, even the people that I didn’t know were in my corner.”

We’re in awe… Asia still earned a 3.8 GPA that semester and got promoted at her job, even after all she had been through.

January 17, 2020

Noriko's Story

This video was created for the 2019 Empty Bowl Dinner. Click the video below to hear Noriko tell her story. Video production by RetroMotion Creative.

"It is OK to be sad, it is OK to be hurt. I just keep telling myself, ‘you can do this, you’ve got the strength.’"

January 10, 2020

A Parent's Story

Written by an anonymous parent of a youth at Spectrum

"When you are the adoptive parent of a teen struggling with depression/mood swings/alcoholism/eating disorder, your world is turned upside down. Instead of family Yahtzee games on a Friday night, you end up driving around looking for your daughter who has run away from home yet again. There is no respite from the fear of losing your child to dangerous choices.

Night after night, month after month, for years, her Dad and I tried every intervention including residential stays for her. Whenever she could, she would run away and we would be left in paralyzing fear for weeks on end until she’d call from points unknown and we’d send her a bus ticket home.

Throughout this time, I always prayed that she’d meet caring souls along the way who would literally offer her shelter. These are the angels among us. There was a kind female police officer in Syracuse who bought her a meal, a person in Texas who found her wallet and mailed it back to us, a mechanic in California who gave her a dog to keep her safe, a doctor in Louisiana who called me. And finally, when she came back to Burlington, she went to the Spectrum Shelter for a short time. What a relief to know someone out there cared!

The staff was warm, concerned and offered her just what she needed- a respite and a good dollop of respect. I was impressed then with the work that they did on behalf of at risk teens and my admiration for their work has grown over the years. With so much dysfunction in our toxic world, Spectrum is a voice for the disenfranchised of our teens (of which there are far too many and far too few services for). Thank you Spectrum for being the angels among us!

Epilogue : Our daughter is now in a long term committed relationship raising a beautiful son. She no longer runs from the world but instead has gone back to college and is getting straight A’s!"

January 03, 2020

A Mentor's Story

Written by Spectrum Mentor, Bob Wheel

In February 2012, I received an e-mail from Dee Johnson, the mentoring coordinator for Spectrum Youth and Family Services saying that she had a young man who was looking for a mentor. And, since we both liked baseball, she thought that we would make a good match.

I had indeed been involved with baseball teams at various levels including a local Legion Baseball team as well as the Vermont Expos & Lake Monsters. I shared some skepticism with Dee, though, that I wouldn’t have the time necessary to commit to such an undertaking. No worries she said, we only require a commitment of one hour per week.

A couple of weeks later I met my young mentee, a 12 year old young man who I found to hold his cards pretty close to his vest. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust people, he just wasn’t real eager to take chances.

Years later, I asked him how he ended up getting a mentor, and he said that he asked his guidance counselor to hook him up with one. That was a pretty bold step for a young man who wasn’t real comfortable with getting too close to people that he didn't know.

We hit it off right out of the gate, but baseball wasn’t an option, there was 3 feet of snow on the ground! Bowling was our first venture, and became a fairly regular event for a number of years.

The first real big connection though was on the mountain at Bolton Valley.

It had been a few years since I had skied, and after a quick trip to the ski shop for a tune up, we were on the mountain.

For years to come, we would hit the mountain for night skiing, often 2 or 3 times per week. I was always a “safe” skier (you can read that as chicken, that’s okay). It didn’t take too many trips to the mountain before he was challenging me to take some side trips into the woods, as well as out onto some of the tougher trails. The mentee becomes the mentor as you would have it!

Winter gave way to spring, and baseball began. My young friend was eager to help me with announcing the games for the high school team that I worked with. He even skipped the party at school following his 8th grade graduation to help me to announce a high school game. Baseball has played a huge part in our relationship. After a few years of announcing with me, Ryan was old enough to play for one of the summer teams that I worked with. Those summers included some overnight travel, and the boys even won the league championship one year.

My young friend was eager to help me with announcing the games for the high school team that I worked with.

Baseball continues to play a big part in the time that we spend together. For a few years he helped me to announce at Little Fenway, last year he put a team together with his co-workers and they won the minor division championship.

We’ve made dinner for various on duty shifts at the Fire Department that I used to work for.

Life just isn’t about baseball and skiing though. We’ve made dinner for various on duty shifts at the Fire Department that I used to work for. Ryan was able to pass the test and obtain his boating license, and now pretty much skippers the boat any time that we are out. From the moment he got his learner’s permit, he’s taken over all of the driving duties, was able to drive my 5 speed Mustang convertible before he finished driver’s ed, and got his driver’s license with no problem.

His work ethic is unlike any of his peers. He works long hours and isn’t afraid to get dirty.

There is that 4 letter word of life “WORK”. School was not my young friend’s favorite activity. He did slug through it though, and graduated on time with his friends. When he turned 15, he went to work. And work he did. His work ethic is unlike any of his peers. He works long hours and isn’t afraid to get dirty. He has proven his worth to his employer, and was recently promoted. At 20 years old, he’s a store manager overseeing 34 employees. He still gets dirty and isn’t afraid to work the less desirable shifts when needed.

Our friendship has developed miles beyond mentoring though.

Ryan has become one of the family. After his first taste of salt water at Hampton Beach early in our friendship he has become hooked. He joins my own family as well as an extended family of about 25 other friends for our annual week at Hampton.

It’s become a friends and family thing.

Life has its ups and downs. I helped him and drove him to the Emergency Room when he hurt his back snowboarding, he helped me and drove me to the Emergency Room when I dislocated my shoulder skiing. It’s become a friends and family thing.

My thanks go out to Dee Johnson, for introducing us and her support in the early years and to Mark Redmond, Le Ann Donner, and Stephanie Ball of Spectrum Youth and Family Services. They have supported my relationship with a lifelong friend, someone who has certainly become a part of the family. All because we both like baseball.

And, oh yeah. That one hour a week that I was afraid that I couldn’t find? In the past 8 years we’ve spent over 2,700 hours together.

Interested in sharing your Spectrum Story? Click below to share online or email Charlotte Steverson at csteverson@spectrumvt.org

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Spectrum Youth & Family Services