As part of the effort to support the MN Homeless Youth Act, 180 Degrees and several other youth organizations testified before the Senate Health and Human Services Reform Committee. Oakley Lemke, a former youth who stayed at the St. Cloud Youth Shelter, agreed to share her story of beating the odds:
Hello, my name is Oakley Lemke. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to this committee and I am honored to be here today to share my thoughts on the Homeless Youth Act.
I grew up surrounded by a great deal of conflict and trauma. When I was 13 years old, I made some poor choices and got in trouble with law enforcement, and even lived for several months in juvenile centers. During this time, I was dealing with a great deal of depression and at times felt that I just couldn’t go on and I was even suicidal.
Two years ago, I was placed at the 180 Degrees Youth Shelter in St. Cloud and my life really began to change. I was shy and quiet at first, and I really didn’t trust anyone, but gradually I realized that I was safe and secure. The staff in St. Cloud listened to me and they accepted me just as I was. They didn’t just teach me Independent Living Skills, they actually showed me how to write my resume, how to apply for work, and how to transition from one job to another by giving notice and not just quitting on the spot. I learned all of these skills from the staff at St Cloud and am now able to do all of these things on my own.
As I finished high school, I got a job at Burger King and worked part-time. The staff at St Cloud encouraged me to think about college and even showed me how to apply for financial aid. One day, I received a letter in the mail and when I opened it I found out that I had actually been accepted into St. Cloud State. They sent me a poster that said “I’m a husky” which is their mascot. So without saying anything I hung it on the door of my room at the shelter. Everyone was surprised and excited to see that I had been accepted into college.
I was in disbelief at first. It’s an amazing feeling to do things that you never thought you could do.
Last August I started college at St. Cloud State and got a job working at the bookstore on campus.
I’ve also reconnected with my family and this fall I will transfer to Brainerd Central Lakes College. My dream is to complete my training and become an EMT.
It’s really no surprise to me that LGBTQIA youth have a 120% higher risk of becoming homeless. Many youth that I know have families that just can’t accept the fact that their children are in the community. Many youth have been kicked out of home, or their families wouldn’t accept them and the kids were so miserable that they ran away.
Obviously, the most important thing that homeless youth need is shelter; but just providing a roof and basic needs isn’t enough. I know from my experience that feeling truly safe, respected, and being in an environment where people are trustworthy and support you for who you truly are, is life changing.
When I learned to accept myself for who I was, my depression and suicidal thoughts decreased significantly. I realized that I could decide for myself and become whatever I wanted. I could also begin to make my own dreams come true.
I encourage you to support the Homeless Youth Act so that other Minnesota youth like myself, can have the opportunity to feel safe, secure, and…have the opportunity to make their own dreams come true and figure out who they really are.
Help us SpringForward
Jordan was the oldest of three. With her mom and step-dad working evenings, she was often charged with taking care of her two pre-school aged sisters after school. This difficult and large responsibility tended to come with few rewards and a lot of criticism.
On Saturdays, Jordan would take the bus and escape to the mall, roaming around the beautiful stores. One day, an outgoing guy with a great smile followed her. He introduced himself as Mac and told her how beautiful she was. He insisted she have lunch with him in the food court.
Flattered by his attention, and admittedly hungry, she agreed to join him.
Meetings at the mall with Mac became a weekly event. He made Jordan feel special, introducing her to his friends as his girlfriend. He always got her a gift - a heart necklace, new sneakers, or makeup.
Mac did so much for Jordan - buying her gifts, letting her stay over, getting her food. So when he asked her to help, just this once, to cover the rent, she agreed. Jordan didn’t want to do it, but she tried telling herself a few revealing photos this one time wouldn’t be a big deal. "Just this once” turned into more frequent requests, and later, into demands.
By age 17, Jordan was being trafficked weekly in St. Paul’s East metro region. At 2 a.m. a police raid resulted in her being transported to Children’s Hospital. Physically and emotionally depleted, she confessed to a hospital social worker what had been going on, but refused to provide her parents’ contact information. With nowhere else to go, Jordan was brought to 180 Degrees’ Brittany’s Place.
Jordan arrived at Brittany’s Place emotionally shut down. Understandably, after almost two years of being trafficked for sex, she didn’t trust adults, she didn’t trust anyone. For the first week, Jordan mostly slept. Her body was tired. She mostly kept to herself, but showed up for all the family-style meals. She was hungry.
The transition to 180 Degrees' Brittany’s Place wasn’t easy. She missed Mac – he was her first boyfriend, and he had become her family. He would be furious that she broke their secret. However, as her body and mind had time to start healing and experiencing safety, she started to process things differently.
Brittany’s Place’ Parent Liaison provided an important extra support system. Jordan expressed her feelings of isolation in the family and her mom expressed her frustration and fear about not parenting effectively. They started getting to the root of the unhealthy behavior in the family.
Jordan’s trafficking experience will leave life-long scars. However, she has found hope discovering personal strengths and capabilities. Jordan returned home and she and her mom continue to access support each week from Brittany’s Place Case Manager. Jordan’s proud of her personal goals and creating new, healthy relationships.
Thank you for following along with Jordan's story of resilience and healing.
Your gift right now will support youth like Jordan who are experiencing crisis and need a safe space to stay.
Will you help us reach our goal of $10,000? A gift today will plant the seeds for a brighter tomorrow for teens like Jordan.
Almost a year ago 180 Degrees started the journey of our organizational rebrand. Our goal was to develop our messaging and visual identity in order to build our recognition in the community and connect to clients and community partners in a more collaborative and effective way.
180 Degrees partnered with the talented creative agency StoneArch to take on this important project. Together, we dug into the what, why, and how of our work. We reworked our messaging from the ground up and through staff, partner organizations, supporters, and community feedback.
NEW BRAND VISUALS
We've been working hard to have our visual look and feel represent the work we do. As of today, along with our new logo, you'll start seeing new visuals appear in email communications, social media pages, and online campaigns (like our GiveMN Spring Forward Fundraiser, live now)!
NEW WEBSITE COMING SOON
You may be wondering when our new branding will launch on our website. The answer is - very soon! Stay tuned for the new website launch in May.
NEW LOOK, SAME DEDICATION
Although 180 Degrees has a new look, our dedication to those in crisis is the same. You can count on our services, priorities, and values continuing to:
Throughout the journey of this organizational rebrand, the biggest priority and benefit has been clear: to empower and provide safety for people who are in crisis. Having a stronger, clearer identity will make us a stronger service provider.
“Understanding the what, how, and why of the organization unites staff and the community, and strengthens fundraising for short and long-term stability. By having a clear message and an easy to navigate website, we make it easier for clients and community partners to access support and get connected to resources” Marketing Manager Alex Moeller said.
Thank you for your support in this next adventure and being a partner in creating safe spaces for people in crisis.