"I don't know where I'd be without YMCA and my Roomsponsors"
Louise was once a happy 16-year-old girl. But then one day, as she was walking home from school, she was targeted for a horrifying assault by a group of men. After chasing her down an alley, they dragged her off and took it in turns to rape her. When they finally finished, Louise managed to make it home. But her mother, instead of offering comfort and support to Louise, turned on her – and blamed her for what had happened.
Louise's relationship with her parents disintegrated, and it was impossible to live with them any more. For a short while Louise slept on friends' floors, but before long she found herself huddling in shop doorways, begging for loose change just to survive.
Just when it seemed the world had completely turned its back on her, Louise found her way to YMCA. To her massive relief, she was offered warm meals and a place where she could finally be safe – a room sponsored by someone like you. Louise's experiences had left her badly traumatised, but with the encouragement of expert YMCA staff, and the support of her Roomsponsors, she was gradually able to open up about what she'd been through, and begin the process of moving on.
Now Louise has a room in a flatshare and a job working at a local leisure centre. "I'm doing much better now," she says, "but I don't know where I'd be without YMCA... I don't really want to think about it."
"I'm the happiest I've ever been"
Matt never knew his real parents. Born into foster care, at the age of two he was placed in a house with a family that abused him emotionally and physically on almost a daily basis. "Some of my earliest memories are of my foster father and brother locking me in a room for hours at a time" he recalls. Throughout his childhood and teen years, Matt was frequently moved between children's homes and foster homes, which made his life very unstable. He found it difficult to make friends, and nearly impossible to focus on his education.
But it was at the age of 18, when he was ejected from the foster care system, that Matt's troubles really began. He found himself completely alone, without any qualifications that might help him to get a job. He quickly became homeless, and was forced to sleep on the streets for several weeks.
Matt was in a terrible state – lonely, cold and penniless. Thankfully, however, he was referred to a local YMCA. He was able to take his first shower in a very long time, and thanks to YMCA he had his own room. It was amazing to have somewhere to call home.
Matt was soon able to go back to school and start lessons again. And with the encouragement of YMCA staff, he began to realise that he had good academic potential. Since coming to YMCA, Matt's training to be a nurse, and he's made lots of new friends. "I'm the happiest I've ever been," he says.
"My Roomsponsors are the only reason I'm alive at all"
Looking back on her childhood, Debbie can't remember a time when her parents showed her any affection. They made it very clear she wasn't wanted, and Debbie was put through year after year of emotional torment and neglect. Then when she was 18, they threw her out of the house – with a warning never to return.
It's estimated that on average, a young person will only be on the streets for six hours before being approached to sell drugs, their body, or both. Debbie was on the streets for over two months – during which she was attacked and raped on multiple occasions. "It's all a blur now" she told her Key Worker. "I didn't even know what day it was. I just wanted to die."
It's hard to think about what would have happened if we hadn't found Debbie when we did – shivering with pneumonia, she was close to death. But thanks to YMCA, Debbie was able to get the medical attention, food and rest that she needed to recover. Just as importantly, YMCA counsellors have also helped Debbie to talk about her experiences and overcome her anxieties.
Now that Debbie's settled in at YMCA, she's making friends and taking full advantage of the activities and life courses on offer. She's particularly enjoying learning to cook, and wants to train to be a chef. For the very first time, Debbie's excited about her future.