As Outreach celebrates its 20th Anniversary we have been sharing stories from our youth from then to now. Here is a another story from a former youth of what Outreach meant to him…
Listening to LaMar’s story of transformation was an incredible privilege. It’s not every day one gets to sit with a man who, as a homeless teenager, managed to graduate from high school and then be the first in his family to graduate from college. I was privileged to hear his story in the same week he bought his first home. He met me one evening after work at the Outreach house, and we sat across the table from one another and laughed and cried and reflected on his journey.
When LaMar was in high school, his mom was laid off and their family lost their home. For the next year and a half he, his two siblings, his mother, and his step-dad lived out of their cars. Every day LaMar would get up, take his siblings to school, and attend class himself. His mom and step-dad did lawn care in hopes of having enough money to buy what they needed and maybe get a hotel room in order to sleep and wash up.
During that time, LaMar admitted he realized their situation wasn’t going to change. He offered to drop out of school and work full-time to help out. He remembers his mom’s reply, “You can help me by finishing school.” LaMar says that’s the fuel that got him through. He says school is what got him out of poverty and what will hopefully keep him from ever being homeless again.
Eventually his mom and siblings moved in with family, and he decided to step out on his own. He signed the lease to his first apartment July 1, 2006. From then until he graduated in the spring of 2007, he went to school every day, worked from 4pm-10pm, took two busses each way, and walked in between. He got home at 11:30 every night to sleep and get up and go to school and start the day again.
It was during this time that he connected with Outreach, Inc.’s G.O.A.L Program via his case manager, Rob Pallikan. “Rob became the confidant I was seeking, and Outreach really gave me the hope and courage and support and faith that I needed to carry on. Rob and Mrs. Cotton (IPS social worker) were so instrumental in making sure that I didn’t throw in the towel and didn’t give up. Rob and my school social worker were my go-to people…if I needed anything, they went above and beyond to make sure I had it.”
There were many days he wanted to give up. “When you have to fight every day for everything, you get tired and you get weary and you get exhausted. Then you start believing the voices in your head saying, ‘you can’t do it’, ‘why don’t you just give up?’, ‘stop while you’re ahead’. To be able to shut those voices out was literally a fight, but the thing was, I wasn’t fighting alone. I had Rob fighting with me. I had my social worker, Mrs. Cotton, fighting with me. I had Eric fighting with me. I had my mom fighting with me. I had my teachers fighting with me. I had people fighting with me, and that made all the difference. I think when…you know that there are people behind you, you just can’t give up. Each time I had someone behind me, those negative voices started getting quieter and quieter and quieter.”
“I tell you there were days that I would wake up and think I just don’t want to do this anymore, but Rob always called and stopped by and checked in on me.” Is it any surprise that he still has the picture of Rob and him from his graduation day framed at his house? LaMar says he promised Rob over and over again that if Rob would help him get over the next hurdle, he would soar. Soar he did.
Graduation day came, and LaMar graduated on time with his class. They were the first class to graduate at Hilbert Circle. “Besides the birth of my nephew, my high school graduation continues to be the happiest day of my life. It was a day of triumph and of overcoming adversity; it was the day I would soar.”
Tears came to his eyes when he spoke about the moment he saw his mom. He says he hugged her so big, siblings watching, and she looked at him and said, “Baby, you did it.”
“I never thought I would make it that far. There were many days I wanted to throw in the towel and give up. There was just so much on me, but I did it as a sacrifice for her because I wanted to be one less persons he had to worry about, one less mouth that she had to feed.”
Rob continued to meet up with him during his college career, and in 2011, LaMar graduated with a degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. When he came back that year and spoke at the Outreach graduation, his advice to the graduates was simply, “Don’t give up now. Keep fighting. There is so much more out there than what you’ve been through.” He found out that day that he was the first person to go through Outreach’s GOAL program and graduate from college.
Since then, LaMar has worked as a news reporter in Bloomington, IN; Rockford, IL; Beaumont, TX; and Fort Wayne. Today he is a public relations specialist for the Indiana Department of Transportation serving as the lead spokesperson for the I-69 section 6 project connecting Martinsville to Indianapolis, one of the department’s largest projects.
LaMar and I left Outreach together, making plans for him to host an ‘omelet morning’ at Outreach’s drop-in center on his next day off. I believe whole-heartedly this is a man who will continue to bring about beautiful change, and I am profoundly grateful Outreach has had the privilege of joining him on his journey, both in giving and receiving.