A great mother and successful professional, Mercedes Boston discovered her strength at an early age. The troubles in her life strengthened her into a resilient, persistent person … when she was only a child.
At birth, she was abandoned by her mother and entered the child welfare system. Her loving grandmother became her foster guardian and raised Mercedes until she was 10 years old. Then her grandmother died of cancer. Mercedes’ world turned upside down. She bounced from relative to relative, feeling unloved and unwanted. Still just a child, she twice fended off sexual advances in relatives’ homes. And then she fled to yet another relative’s home.
After she graduated from high school and turned 18, her child welfare case closed. But like many youth who transition out of foster care, Mercedes struggled. She lived with an aunt for a while. Then Mercedes went to a transitional program for former foster youth, but the program would not allow her to stay when she became pregnant. She was living at an aunt’s crowded home when her daughter, Mariyah, was born. Next, Mercedes got her own apartment, but the property owner didn’t pay the mortgage, so the bank took over the building and kicked out the tenants.
“I came to St. Anne’s broken”
After hearing about St. Anne’s from a cousin, Mercedes applied and was accepted. At last, she had a safe place for Mariyah to live.
Independent and accustomed to fending for herself, Mercedes was at first a little resistant to the structure of St. Anne’s Transitional Housing Program. “You think you’re grown because you have been through stuff, so it’s hard to go by rules,” she says. But she took the required parenting and life-skills classes—and realized they were helping her.
Staff remember Mercedes as resilient and goal-oriented. But something lay beneath Mercedes’ self-sufficient façade. “I came to St. Anne’s really broken,” Mercedes admits.
After a year of claiming she didn’t need therapy, Mercedes agreed to try it. “I would let my emotions get the best of me. It was me protecting myself,” says Mercedes. “Then I thought, let me try therapy so I can get things off my chest.” At first she was reluctant to share much, but as trust built with her therapist, Mercedes opened up. “I had been holding that stuff in for so long,” Mercedes says. “It helped a lot. I’m thankful for it.”
Also, Mercedes praises St. Anne’s Early Learning Center, which Mariyah began attending when she was 15 months old. Now an 8-year-old in third grade, Mariyah is a top student with perfect attendance. “She is always smiling, she lights up a room,” says her proud mother.
Mercedes credits St. Anne’s workforce program for boosting her confidence. She was interning in St. Anne’s offices when she got an internship at Chelsea Management Company, an asset management company. That internship turned into a permanent job as an office assistant that she has held for four years. Patrick Pascal, St. Anne’s board chair and president of Chelsea Management, says, “Mercedes is a fearless employee. She is never shy to take on a new task or deal with a difficult situation. Mercedes is successful because she has amazing skills relating to people.”
But like so many young adults who were foster children, Mercedes struggled to find and keep affordable permanent housing after she left St. Anne’s. After three apartments and more time living with an aunt, Mercedes secured the West L.A. apartment where she has lived for the last three years. In June, she will marry Brandon.
Healing and Hope
Reflecting on her experience at St. Anne’s, Mercedes, now age 29, says, “They pushed me even when I didn’t want to talk, or have the courage to find a job, or have a positive attitude. They always saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. When I get down, I know there are people out there who still believe in me. St. Anne’s gave me that.”
Mercedes has a message for St. Anne’s: “Keep giving each girl who enters St. Anne’s hope. Don’t give up on them.”