My most recent blessing was to find refuge in Casa de Amparo.
Jaime Pacheco, 23 years old
Former New Directions Resident (2013-2014)
I was born in San Antonio, Texas. My mom left my dad when I was 2 because he had schizophrenia, so we – my mom, her siblings, my sister, and I – all moved to Logan Heights, California. Unfortunately, my mom’s brothers and uncles got involved in gangs. My mom began losing everything, became a drug addict and lived a lifestyle that included a revolving door of men, sleeping in stolen cars, couch surfing, and mail fraud.
There were nights when my mom, sister, and I would sit at a bus stop and wait for hours because we had nowhere else to go. I spent nights in homeless shelters that made you leave at sunrise. As a little kid who didn’t know anything else, I thought all of this was normal.
That was how we lived and all I knew life to be, until the day I found out that one of the men my mom was with had molested my sister. That was really hard on me. That night, I yelled at God and unleashed my anger.
There came a time when my sister left to live with other family members or friends from school, while my mom left me with my grandmother. I would occasionally see my sister around the neighborhood. Even though my mom would tell me she would come back for me, she would disappear for days, weeks, and even months. Eventually, my aunt got involved and notified Child Protective Services.
When I was 12, my sister and I ended up at the Polinsky Children’s Center. My aunt had said several negative things about my mother, who was denied visitation rights. I stayed in the child welfare system until I turned 18. My aunt was my foster mom for a while. However, I was resentful that her family was doing well while my family struggled to get by. I was rebellious and was transferred to five different group homes and five different foster homes.
It took the unconditional love and faith of my last foster mom to begin turning my life around. While other foster parents would deprive me of food and force me to sleep in hallways, this lady just loved me. She picked me up and stayed with me even when I attempted to run away. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have graduated high school and be where I am today. I stayed with her for four years. Even after I emancipated, she said I could stay with her. However, I felt controlled by the system and wanted my freedom.
I returned to Logan Heights and quickly reconnected with family and old friends, and ended up being caught in the cycle of violence and drugs that held my uncles. I was back in a dark place and wound up homeless once more. The only thing I could think of was prison, because of its food, shelter, and street fame.
I soon became popular from writing secular music about neighborhood life stories. I was really good and performed at club shows. There was a period of three consecutive days where all I did was write songs. The last song was inspired and called “You, Myself, and God” – that’s all we have in the end.
Before I wrote it, I asked, “Who is God?” I prayed and wished I was any other person. It was at that moment I was given a vision for my life, showing that I was heard during all the hard times. I felt an overwhelming love. I became a new person and my whole worldview changed in an instant. I was experienced an unmatched joy and the purpose of my existence made sense.
After that, I started pursuing only what is honorable, just, and pure. I switched my writing to inspire and save lives. I made a decision to fight for what is right and not for what is evil. I wanted to be a voice for people who struggle and are trapped by their environment, peer pressure, or the system. I wanted to stand up and give people the confidence and courage to also stand for others.
The first word of wisdom I received was that I needed to go to school. I was still locked in the neighborhood, but the only thing I could do was to continue to pursue good and keep my faith. I didn’t know how I would get out, but I knew God could get me out of this mess. Sure enough, my uncles helped me leave the neighborhood and take my first step of faith.
I had no money, and my only belonging was a MacBook that contained all of my music. I sold my music equipment to make a down payment for a year-long program that taught me a lot about myself, practical faith, and community outreach. This is how I moved to North County, which led to an opportunity to live with two spiritual brothers in Pacific Beach. My lease was ending around the same time I was set to graduate from the program. I had only but one place to go – the old neighborhood.
However, on graduation day, my spiritual sister attended and asked to take me out to lunch. I told her about my situation, and she invited me to live with her in Encinitas. Her family showed me love and helped me get on my feet. Still, I tended to be lazy and kept reverting to old, bad habits. I couldn’t get motivated to look for work. I never learned these life skills that come easily to others. I only knew how to be taken care of and didn’t know how to be independent.
Through this family, I met a group of military personnel at a barbecue, who eventually invited me to live with them in Carlsbad and learn how to become a man. I was unsure if I should accept the invitation, since I was unemployed and they were going to charge me rent! I knew about transitional housing programs available to former foster youth, but I felt I was being tested to take a step of faith.
I walked by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carlsbad one day and asked a lady in passing if they were hiring. I interviewed and chose to move in with the military men despite not knowing the outcome of the interview. I had a desire for a job where I could help youth, juveniles, and adolescents, and felt rewarded when I received a job offer! I became a Youth Development Professional and was soon promoted to be the Teen Director to run the Club’s music production. I knew the reason why I was there!
My most recent blessing was to find refuge in Casa de Amparo’s New Directions program. I knew some of Casa de Amparo’s history and the way they started is amazing. Now I am honored to be part of Casa de Amparo’s story. New Directions helped me obtain important skills and resources to transition from a life trapped in the welfare system and my old neighborhood to a life where I can continue living freely and independently as a successful young man.
The best characteristic about Casa de Amparo is its staff members, who show their genuine care by working alongside with you with whatever you need, no matter what the struggle is. I felt their warmth from the moment I first met them. They provide quality housing and put you in the best situation possible, even if it means covering expenses out of their own pockets or working late into the night. This is especially true of Tina, who has become more of a friend than my case manager. Her care and love for me is genuine and not fabricated.
The late football coach Tom Landry said, “Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.” I believe Casa de Amparo has great leaders who fulfill this motto. Now it’s the motto I live by and I am honored to be in a position to help youth achieve their dreams.