Taking your Lessons from Bumps in the Road -

Friends & Neighbors

Taking your Lessons from Bumps in the Road

There are turning points in every life, and Alesha can trace everything back to these. Some, she knows now she could have controlled and some she couldn’t. But all of them were crucial moments that she’s found a way to learn from, no matter how difficult the lesson.

At 16, Alesha left her Chesterfield home, where she lived with her mother, stepfather, and younger brothers. She’d spent her childhood growing up too fast—suffering physical and sexual abuse, navigating addict parents, and taking care of her baby brothers. “It was a rough life,” she repeats quietly when she thinks back. “A rough life.”

God never puts anything on you that you can’t handle.

She was pregnant, scared, and determined to get out of a place she could no longer stand to be in. But with no one to talk to or trust, it was difficult to know where to go. Now at 27, Alesha can look back and see that it was the lack of a support system in her life that kept her drifting for so long. A decade of moving in and out of often dangerous living situations, more pregnancies, the struggle to feed her and her children, left her with a desperation to have her own place.

Trying to swim upstream

There was a moment when her life seemed to be changing course, although it wasn’t in the direction she’d hoped. Alesha was able to secure a place for herself and her children in Hillside Court, a public housing complex on Richmond’s South Side. It seemed like a godsend at first—more space, privacy, and a chance to get on her feet while she tried to find a job.

But those old vulnerabilities crept in, and with no one to help guide her, the young mother of four succumbed to a lifestyle of substance abuse. She found escape everywhere, waiting for her around every corner, and before she knew it she found herself resembling the kind of parent she had tried to hard to run from.

I wouldn’t wish having children being taken away on my own worst enemy.

When Child Protective Services (CPS) caught on, Alesha’s children were taken from her and put into safer homes for the time being. The depression that set in after this was crippling, but the sensation of hitting rock bottom did a surprising thing—it motivated her to start climbing.

There was a new baby on the way, and she knew that the first order of business was to make sure she distanced herself from Hillside Court. Alesha fled, leaving most of her things behind. “I knew that if I couldn’t find anywhere to go that CPS would take my newborn, and…no. That wasn’t happening.”

Increasingly, she’d been relying on her mental health counselor for guidance, clinging to the one person who seemed like she was on Alesha’s side. The counselor recommended Hilliard House, where Alesha started for the first time in her life to feel like she had stable ground underneath her. With a room of her own, childcare options, help with transportation and job searches, she felt herself being boosted to her next step: getting a steady job, which would lead to a place of her own.

Solid footing and a new perspective

Just a few months later, and the whole world has changed for Alesha and her cheerful, laid-back little baby.

The two live together in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s a quiet community, and her whole voice changes when she talks about it. She describes the floorplan with pride, pointing out that now that she has full kitchen, she’s going to learn how to cook.

Alesha’s growing skill with food is being cultivated at her new job, a center that provides daycare and recreation. She started at the welcome desk and then picked up some more hours in the kitchen, where she learned how to bake cookies and cakes. Soon, she was taking a lot of pride in the sweets she was helping to create for the children and families that came to the center.

Making other children happy has a lot to do with her next goal, giving her children her best self again.

“I wouldn’t wish having children being taken away on my own worst enemy,” Alesha says firmly. “But God never puts anything on you that you can’t handle. And maybe it was a good thing, maybe I needed to take this time to get myself together and find myself again, so that I can be the best mom that I can.”

She counts down the days until she’s eligible to bring her children back into her home, and she runs down the list of each child’s personalities. It’s only a couple of months away, and she can’t wait until they see their new apartment. “I want them to grow up and have the life that I never had. I want them to have strong lives and be the best they can be,” she affirms.

Her main objective for her kids is to make sure they have the support they need to always have a place they can call home. “I want to teach them to know that when you see someone homeless, that could be you. Whether you’re rich or poor, things can change in the blink of an eye. I don’t want that to happen to them.”

I want them to grow up and have the life that I never had.

Alesha’s a believer in people, now, and the importance of having others to ask for advice, to connect you to resources, and to just listen to you when you need someone to talk to. She wants to be that person for her kids, and she’s going to do whatever it takes to see that they have a mother, a home, and the stability she never did.

When they come to their own crossroads in their lives, Alesha plans to be there to help them all through.