Alumna Profile: Lesly
Lesly’s journey from the day she got pregnant at 12 with her first child to graduating from Florence Crittenton High School at 20 with the Class of 2019 has been one of perseverance, highs and lows, fresh starts, and incredible…
Lesly’s journey from the day she got pregnant at 12 with her first child to graduating from Florence Crittenton High School at 20 with the Class of 2019 has been one of perseverance, highs and lows, fresh starts, and incredible growth. The mature, compassionate, and dedicated young woman who walked across the stage on May 23 is certainly not the girl who thought she and her then boyfriend should have a baby when they were children themselves. Lesly and her two children, 6-year-old Gio and 2-year-old Avianna, are looking at a bright future after three years at Florence Crittenton Services. Today, Lesly is working at an internship in the medical field while also taking night classes. During her senior year, she was chosen to attend two National Crittenton conferences. Gio finished first grade and is a sweet and thoughtful big brother for his little sister. Avianna is a book loving, wild toddler.
“I was a freaking teenager and I was in love,” says Lesly frankly when asked about how she got pregnant with her son Gio. Lesly’s family was not supportive of her pregnancy, so she and her baby’s father moved to Florida to live with his family. The move seemed to be a good choice at first. Lesly got along with the family. Things slowly started to change as she and her baby’s father’s family had different ideas about how to raise Gio and different expectations about Lesly’s role in the household. At the same time that Lesly decided to move back to Colorado, she was kicked out of the house. Back in Colorado, Lesly moved in with her mother and things started to look up. She reenrolled in school and was able to focus on caring for Gio, who was about 2 years old now. Then she met some girlfriends who did not have children. “Sometimes I would leave Gio with my sister and she would watch him. I would go out and party, which was bad,” says Lesly. “That was where I started to become an alcoholic, too. I started smoking. Things just got bad.” Then, without consulting Lesly, her mother decided to send Gio to Florida to live with his father.
“After that, I did not forgive my mom, and we were fighting all the time,” remembers Lesly. “She kept kicking me out. I would go back two weeks later, and she would say, ‘You need to change.’” But Lesly’s mother worked two jobs and wasn’t home much to provide structure for Lesly. She experienced periods of homelessness during which she would sleep at a friend’s house, in laundromats, or gyms. This was also when Lesly got pregnant again, though she didn’t realize it at first. “I was a big-time drinker in that time frame because I didn’t have anybody and my mom was never around, so I didn’t even have symptoms of being pregnant,” Lesly says. Then her life took yet another sharp turn—she was arrested and put in jail. “When you get locked up, they test you for everything,” she says seriously. “It turned out I was pregnant.” She was five months along. Lesly did not think she could take care of another baby at 17 years old when she knew she couldn’t even take care of herself, so she started to look into adoption. Then she was released from prison and found out she was having a girl, and something in her changed. She fell in love and decided to keep her second baby. Lesly says that Avianna is what motivated her to do better. “She’s a blessing. I’m here because of her.”
The final blow came at the same time that Lesly found out she was pregnant again and going to jail. Her mother surrendered to the foster care system. When Lesly was released from jail three months later, she went into her first foster home, where she had Avianna. Lesly and her first foster mother did not see eye to eye on house rules. Lesly went to a second foster home with a couple named Ann and Mario, and that is where she still is today. “They’re really supportive, and I know they love me and my kids,” says Lesly. “They’ve just helped me with a lot of things.”
Lesly finally started to find the support she had always needed, and her life started to be different. She and Avianna spent the first few months settling into life with Ann and Mario. Gio came back to live with Lesly when he was 4 years old. Ann had heard about Florence Crittenton Services and encouraged Lesly to take a tour. Lesly hadn’t been in school for a while, but after seeing FloCrit, she decided to give the school a shot. “I wanted to go to school. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could graduate with my kids.” She immediately loved the staff and the way they talked to her and made her feel valued, especially Director of the Student and Family Support Program, Desta Taye-Channell. The staff motivated Lesly to be a good student. She enrolled at 17 years old, but with only enough credits to be a freshman. Within a year, Lesly had moved up two grades. “I came here to focus on school,” Lesly says firmly, “and to get myself together, get my education, and go to the next chapter of my life.” Lesly also liked going to school with other young women who had children. “We’re all teen moms,” she says. “We all have something to offer each other.” Lesly made friends with the other girls at school who all had babies, too, and understood what that meant to their social lives. They got together to do things with their kids and to talk about life as teen moms.
Gio and Avianna began attending the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Center when Lesly enrolled at FloCrit. At 4, Gio only spent one year on campus before he started Kindergarten. He didn’t get to experience much of the ECE Center. Avianna has grown up attending the ECE Center. Lesly can see the difference in her two children. “Gio gets really frustrated when it comes to homework, but he gets it done. Kindergarten and first grade were kind of difficult for him. I never really knew how important it was to read books and expose him to certain things,” she says. “On the other hand, I feel like Avianna is going to be a smart cookie. Her vocabulary is expanding. She loves books. She understands English and Spanish.” The ECE Center and support services like diapers, wipes, and clothes from Baby Bucks helped Lesly to graduate.
In the last year, Lesly attended two National Crittenton conferences. The first, in June 2018, took Lesly, a few of her classmates, and Family Advocate Manager and Art Therapist Donica Snyder to Portland to help create a graphic novel about Adverse Childhood Experiences. Lesly met all different kinds of girls and young women involved in Florence Crittentons around the country. “We all got to share a part of our story and our trauma and what we’ve been through,” she recounts. “That helped me not judge anybody by their cover because you don’t really know somebody until you sit down and get to know them.” In May 2019 Lesly and her classmate Naomi attended another National Crittenton conference in Atlanta with Donica. Lesly and Donica presented a workshop called “Art Therapy for Everyone: Healing Trauma and Embracing Vulnerability.” The workshop discussed how to use art journaling from the expertise of an art therapist and the experience of an art student. The conferences taught Lesly something about women’s empowerment. “If we can empower each other instead of bringing each other down, we can be stronger and have a healthy life,” she says wisely.
Lesly walked across the stage at graduation in May with a plan for her future in place. She has always wanted to be in the medical field. She is currently working to be a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Lesly went through the CNA program at FloCrit. She completed it and got certified at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Last summer, she had an internship at the Saint Joseph Hospital emergency room. This summer, she had an internship at an assisted living facility. She is also currently taking her LPN prerequisite classes at Emily Griffith Technical College at night after her internship. She plans to get a paid internship in the fall and begin the 11-month LPN program. “After that, I’m hoping to get my license and start working,” Lesly says. “My ultimate goal is to be an RN (registered nurse), and I definitely want to work with children.” FloCrit has opened the doors to many opportunities for Lesly. She is thankful for the career help she got from College and Career Readiness Counselor Ayesha Ricks.
Lesly has plans for her, Gio, and Avianna’s future. She hopes to have a good job. She hopes to have her citizenship then, too, as she is undocumented and currently working toward getting her papers. She wants Avianna to continue with her early childhood education. Next year, Gio will start second grade. Lesly would like to get him into some after school activities like sports as a reward for working hard at school. “I really want to watch my kids walk across that stage [at graduation] one day,” she says. “I’m going to do everything to help them stay focused in their education.” After going through so much early in her life, Lesly has graduated from high school, is moving on to college, has a career plan, and knows that she is a good mother. Lesly smiles fiercely. “I am a strong, independent woman. I am a great mother. Nobody can change that about me.”