As a kid growing up in Oregon City, Lesile P. always loved the start of a new school year.
Not because it meant shopping for new clothes. Not because it meant she’d get to show off her smarts in class. Not because it meant she’d get to see all of her friends everyday. Leslie P. loved the start of a new school year because it meant she’d have a safe place to go for seven hours a day, five days a week.
Leslie’s mom died when she was a baby. Not long after, Leslie’s alcoholic, drug-dealing dad sent her to live with her grandparents. The one rule there she and her older brother had to abide by? Be out of the living room by 5 p.m. so Grandpa could drink his drink and watch the TV news.
And so began a childhood of being shuttled from one drug-addicted relative to another, one foster home to another. In spite of the chaos, “I didn’t get into too much trouble,” Leslie says. “But I went over to the wrong houses so bad things happened to me . . . .”
No wonder Leslie sometimes looked for hiding places when it came time to board the 3 p.m. school bus back home.
At age eight, Leslie picked up cigarettes. At age 13, she picked up pot. Then came alcohol, methamphetamines, pain pills, and heroin. She dropped out of high school, found work at a fast food restaurant, and intermittently continued to ply a trade she learned from her dad when she was a teenager—drug dealing.
Over the next several years, Leslie would get it together for a few months, then slide back into addiction, couch-surfing, and chaos—a cycle that continually repeated itself. At age 20, she gave birth to first child, Joshua. Six years later, Emma arrived. Three years later, Leslie was arrested for dealing drugs. Leslie’s children were placed in foster care—just like she had been.
That quiet little voice in her head that had been telling her to get help finally roared. “I couldn’t function. I couldn’t parent my kids. I couldn’t take care of myself.”
Leslie discovered she was pregnant with a third child. She begged for help. The judge and attorneys on her case arranged for reduced jail time and a referral to Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center, a residential addiction treatment center for women in poverty who are pregnant or parenting young children. Finally, Lesile’s life began to turn around.
When she entered the Letty Owings Center in March 2012, Leslie began learning the life skills her own parents never taught her. Emma came to live with her there five months later.
Leslie was worried. “I had missed her whole year of preschool. She was going to be a kindergartener. I wondered how I was going to get her school supplies and clothing.”
Central City Concern helped them get everything Emma would need to start kindergarten right.
A month later, in September 2012, Leslie gave birth to Malakai. In October she, Emma, and Malakai moved into one of Central City Concern’s alcohol- and drug-free family housing communities for women with children. There, Leslie continued to receive support and guidance from addiction treatment specialists, case managers, certified peer mentors, and employment specialists.
“When I moved in, all the girls came over and helped me, and cooked dinner for me, and made it feel like home. It was like I found a new family. I had unconditional support.”
Leslie is now working full-time as an entry-level administrative assistant and pursuing an associate’s degree at Portland Community College. And she is trying to be the best mom she can be so her kids don’t have to have the kind of childhood she did. Right now, that means letting her first-born son, Joshﾭua, stay with his dad.
And it also means getting Emma ready to start third grade. “I want school to be a place where Emma learns about everything and anything she wants. I don’t want it to be the same way it was for me—a place where I went to hide from things that were hurting me. I want it to be a place where Emma can follow her dreams.”
Emma tore through her summer reading list. The family’s morning routine includes Emma reading out loud to Malakai at the breakfast table. Leslie hopes this practice will better prepare Malakai for when it’s time for him to start school.
Leslie is grateful to be in Central City Concern’s safe, supportive, affordable housing as she continues in this new phase of her life. And she’s grateful for the opportunity to be a good neighbor and role modﾭel, giving back to the people who are just starting out at Central City Concern.
“I have a job, an apartment, my kids. Had I continued on the path that I was on, I wouldn’t be alive right now. My kids wouldn’t have a mom. I’m in a really different place right now. It’s an amazing feeling.”