By Ellen and Isabelle
My name is Ellen Strickland and I started working at Boys Republic in 2003 on the main campus and had the opportunity to work in two different cottages before coming to Girls Republic in 2007. I wanted to share a little about Girls Republic and a few of the things I love the most. Due to the smaller number of students (8 compared to about 25), there is a lot more freedom to do a variety of activities, build closer relationships, and see the girls progress as they deal with very heavy issues.
One of my favorite aspects of the job is all of the new things we are able to expose the students to. Many have never seen the ocean or snow, been ice skating, bowling or out to a restaurant, or opened a Christmas present…and the list goes on. This past summer we were able to take the girls camping. We went to Green Valley Falls Campground outside of Julian, CA and stayed in tents, roasted marshmallows and told ghost stories around a campfire. The girls also went swimming in rock pools and sliding down waterfalls to mention a few things. This was a brand new experience for each of our students and one that will be remembered by staff and students alike. It felt more like family spending time together than a job. It is something that I hope to repeat annually for many years to come.
Another aspect of the job that I love is being able to build close relationships and be a part of the girl’s lives as they work through many serious issues such as substance abuse, molestation, and family violence. These young ladies are able to process and work through issues that most adults never will. I am constantly amazed at the strength each one possesses to face these issues and overcome them.
One of these students, Isabelle, will share her story with you:
Hello, my name is Isabelle and I am 15 years old. I’ve been at Girls Republic for about a year. Girls Republic has helped me come a long way since I’ve been here. GR has been there for me through my hardest times. They helped me overcome my gang issues, drug addictions, and most importantly the situation with my family. Without the support of my peers and staff I don’t think that I would had made it this far.
As a little girl I had a rough childhood. I was exposed to drugs and gangs by the age of 8. I saw myself slowly becoming a part of that lifestyle. That was all I knew and to me that was normal. Before I hit the age of 9 I was addicted to inhalants such as hairspray, spray paint, and Dust Off. Within the next coming years I also got involved with marijuana, alcohol, and crystal meth. On top of all of this I started hanging around with gang members and made some poor decisions. I thought that using drugs and running the streets would make my problems go away, but little did I know that my problems would get worse.
Many of those choices that I made led to me losing my brother. His name was Gabriel and he passed when he was only 15 years old. What happened to my brother is the reason why I came to Girls Republic. On October 22 of 2008 I was in possession of stolen hand guns. That night I was under the influence and wasn’t thinking straight. My brother and I were in my living room together when I decided to try to unload a gun. Within seconds I heard the gun go off and that’s when I realized that my brother was hit by the bullet. He was put on life support for a day but didn’t make it. I was charged with involuntary manslaughter, possession of stolen property, and neglectful discharge of a firearm. It took me a while to realize that I had accidentally shot my brother, the closest person that I had in my life.
When this happened my family held it against me. My mom and younger sisters blamed me and my older brothers beat me. They weren’t making things easier for me, my guilt just worsened. I made it hard for myself because I didn’t know how to deal with it and neither did my family. I wish that they could’ve helped me but they were too hurt themselves. I was in desperate need of help so my probation officer thought that it would be best to remove me from my home and put me in a place where I would get the most help.
When I came to Girls Republic I knew that things were going to change in my life but I didn’t expect such a drastic change. Group was what helped me the most throughout my program. I strongly believe that group is a huge part of this program. Group isn’t the only thing that has helped me. It was also helpful to be surrounded by a positive environment and being able to experience new things. I’ve done things here that I had never seen myself doing such as having a Christmas, a Thanksgiving, going to a restaurant, going to NASCAR races, seeing the snow, and camping. Now I see that there’s more in life besides what little I knew.
I consider myself very lucky to have come to Girls Republic. Not many people get the opportunity to have a second chance. I’m not the only one that benefited from this program but so did my family. We learned how to deal with the pain of losing my brother and how to handle things differently. It brought us together and made us stronger. This program doesn’t only go out of their way to help us but our family as well. Thanks to my staff and peers now I have goals for myself. I no longer see myself as a gang member or drug addict a couple of years from now. I see a brighter future for myself and I know I can make it. The greatest thing about this program is that they’ll never forget about you. They will keep helping you even when you’re out of the program.
As you read Isabelle’s story I hope you are able to see a little bit of the reason I love this job so much. She summarized things much better than I ever could. She truly is an amazing young woman and her story is one of many that I feel blessed to be a part of.
Editor’s note: For the purpose of this publication, Isabelle’s name and that of her brother have been changed to protect her privacy.