Purpose and Faith Give Krista Strength

Story by Mollie Neal
Photography by Heather Walsh

Krista spends her working hours tending to a woman with dementia in an assisted living facility. Like so many health-care aides, she is a nurturing soul. Some would call it ironic that this is her job. She spent most of her childhood being shuttled from one foster home to another without experiencing any stable nurturing relationships.

For just five short years Krista had a secure home life. Her parents were young adults with “conflicts” and were unable to care for her and her 9-year-old sister so the girls were sent to live with their grandfather. The stay was short-lived. Krista remembers sitting in a hallway next to a closed door. Inside the room, she says, a babysitter would rape her sister.
This was the end of any real home life or permanency she would experience until she reached her teen years. While most kids were enjoying family traditions and forming life-long friendships with neighborhood children, she spent the next eight years being shuttled to different houses where she was raised by foster parents, nannies and group home employees. Being placed with her sister was her only real comfort until they were separated. “I was hurting cuz I then knew I didn’t have any family,” says Krista.

“Each time your stuff is packed up and the social worker is standing there telling you that you are going somewhere else, you feel abandoned. You feel unwanted. You feel you aren’t worthy,” says Krista. That happened 10 times and these invisible wounds don’t heal even as an adult.

As a 27-year-old woman, Krista reflects on her life and believes that she would rather have stayed with a troubled family than have lived with “people who don’t really care for you.”

After her parents recovered from crack addiction she was reunited with them. First living with her father in Oswego, she enjoyed middle school and simple pleasures such as walking to a scenic lake. High school was spent back in her hometown, Hempstead, NY, getting to know her mother who encouraged her to drop her tomboy persona and become more girlish. With a high school diploma and no job prospects, she took care of her grandmother until she was 23 and briefly lived again with her mother. She was rebellious against her mother’s discipline and their relationship was contentious. Krista did what she had learned to do when things got rough: she moved.

“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” says Krista. With nowhere to turn, she ended up in a homeless shelter. “You feel like you are at the bottom of the earth. Everything is horrible. I thought my life is over. I can’t believe this is what my life has become.”

Working dead-end jobs, sleeping in dangerous shelters on cots next to strangers and living in rooms for rent, became a new pattern. At times Krista relied on government assistance for room and board. She recalls one home where she lived in cramped quarters and was fed nothing more than peanut butter and crackers. When the landlord found her taking ice from the freezer, she slammed it shut on her hand and then placed a lock and chain around the appliance. No matter where she lived, it never felt like a real home.

One cold winter night after finishing a 12-hour shift at Macy’s, she had to wait outside the closed store for three hours for a taxi. While other employees had gone home to welcoming family members and the comfort of their own beds, she went alone to a homeless shelter. “You walk in this dark room and all you see is cots and people sleeping, “ says Krista. “You don’t know who you are laying next to. I didn’t sleep all night.”
She was living without any emotional or financial safety net — until she regained her faith in God. “I kept saying I need to get back to church and to Christ,” says Krista. She reached out to government agencies for rental assistance only to be rejected. In the meantime, she tithed her entire tax return to her church believing that she would receive a major blessing from God in return.

Krista’s life began to turn around. She got a call from Barbara Boyle, a senior case manager for the Nassau County Office of Housing and Community Development. Through the Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), Boyle was offering to pay part of her rent, help her move into a decent apartment and give her a furniture voucher. The same week she landed a full-time job as a health aide at a nursing home. The next call from Barbara was an even bigger surprise. The agency offered to pay her entire rent for a full year. “I was in shock. Nothing like this ever happens to me,” says Krista. “HPRP gave me an outlook that I can do anything I put my mind to…I feel like I can conquer anything…That void I got from foster care is lifted because I still have a purpose.”
With her new living situation and a scholarship for a massage therapy training program, Krista is building a better life for herself. She enjoys learning how to heal people with her hands and having real potential for future employment. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn…. you can’t live without an education.”

Life, however, is grueling. Most of her days she works the night shift at the assisted living facility. Then she goes straight to school and, after a short stop at home, heads back to work. Four days a week her sleep consists only of short catnaps. Relying on public transportation, simple tasks such as grocery shopping can take hours out of her precious free time. Instead of resting on Sundays she dons her prized purple and gold choir robe and heads to church. Attending church gives her spiritual strength and wearing the robe “makes me feel like royalty,” says Krista.

She is now optimistic about her future and would like to give massages on a cruise ship. “I want to work and explore the world…and make people feel better,” says Krista. She also dreams of having her own family. “I want to have a great husband, to have a house, a bank account and a whole mindset to have children,” says Krista, and she refuses to ever be dependent on anyone to take care of her.