Tenaja | From Child in Crisis to Child Care Worker
“I ran away from home, and my Hetrick-Martin counselor was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Harvey Milk High School graduate Tenaja. “Now I’m working at a child-care agency while a junior at York College.”
When Tenaja came out at 16, she was living in Staten Island and had no one to turn to. "Even my mother said she didn't want me anymore, that if she'd known when I was born prematurely that I'd turn out this way she wouldn't have let the doctors save me," Tenaja says. "Those are words you don't get over. It was very lonely . . . really, really lonely."
But when she started searching the Web for information on gay teens, Hetrick-Martin was one of the first resources to come up. "So one of the times I ran away from home," she says, "I just walked into Hetrick to see what I could do."
What she found was a community that began to heal her. "We had staff to counsel us and give us information on resources; it was great. There were lines out the door for meals at Café HMI,," she says. "Dinner was a big thing at Hetrick-Martin. Young people who came told other young people who came. I was on the fence with adults at the time, but the Hetrick-Martin staff became role models for me, the adults in my life when I had none—my counselor was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Tenaja decided to transfer in to Harvey Milk High School, and just before she did, she says, one of her Staten Island teachers came up to her and said, "Is this what you want to do with your life? Think about the choice you're making. People will ridicule you."
Now she's working towards a B.S.W. (Bachelors of Social Work) at York College, and hopes to go on to get her M.S.W. (Master of Social Work). While going to school full time she also works full time at the largest child care agency in the state, in the department of LGBT foster homes. "It's where I lived when I was in foster care," Tenaja says. "In five short years of my life—from when I came to Hetrick-Martin—I was able to receive services, and now I'm in a position to turn around and administer those same services back."
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