Two weeks ago, I drove through the mountains to a place called the Finan Center, which was the last of eight institutions I lived in when I was a teenage runaway on the hunt for a better life. I was pretty nervous as I sat down in front of this large group of teenagers who looked back at me skeptically. I could see in their eyes that they’d traveled some of the same dark roads that I had, so I took a deep breath and told them about it. I wanted them to know that they don’t have to let their pasts define them, and that there’s a voice inside each of them that’s trustworthy and that tends toward light. And it was amazing to watch, in the course of an hour, these kids come to recognize a kindred soul and fellow rebel, and to see their expressions soften as their eyes filled with something unmistakable: hope. At the end, many of them came up to me and asked me to write them “something inspirational,” so I wrote mini love letters in their notebooks or on little scraps of paper, and I left with little notes from them, many of which said, “thank you.” I’m going to keep those notes close, and I’m going to be rooting for those kids, and their beautiful, hopeful hearts.
(Sorry for the out-of-focus photo–it’s actually the better of the two I have. And we weren’t allowed to photograph any of the kids there, understandably.)