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Shawna Learns What Safety Feels Like

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When Shawna and her family lived in the projects of inner city Detroit, just getting from home to school and back each day was a dangerous journey. At 16, Shawna was struggling with depression and explosive anger. One too many fights with teachers finally got her expelled, and that’s when she confided to her mother that she was being sexually abused by a neighbor. Even worse- the abuse had been going on since Shawna turned 13, and the abuser had terrified her into silence by threatening to hurt her family if she "told on him."

Shawna’s mom took drastic action. She gathered what few resources and possessions they had and took Shawna and her two younger siblings west on a Greyhound bus. They ended up in downtown Boise, found a local family shelter, but Shawna caused trouble there, still fighting the world, full of pain and anger that neither she nor her mom knew how to deal with. Thanks to a case worker, Shawna was admitted to Hays Shelter Home, where the combination of caring therapy, stability, and family counseling eventually led to a courageous transformation.

At first, Shawna didn’t know what to think of life at Hays. She didn't want to open up to anyone, anywhere, any time. Back in Detroit, she had grown accustomed to living in constant dread. “I was worried every time I left our apartment that somebody might die before I got back.” But slowly she began to trust herself and the people around her. School soon became Shawna's place to shine, and she excelled at her classes. But even more importantly, for the first time, she experienced what it felt like to be safe.

“Going back to Hays after school feels like coming home, a place where I know everything is OK,” she said. In the meantime, Shawna’s mother found a full-time job and housing. The family is now settling well into their new life and Shawna is taking lifeguard certification classes, with the help of a well-earned Idaho Youth Ranch scholarship.

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